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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Class Jobs - more

I don't remember class presidents prior to the fourth grade, but from that point on until I got into junior high school we always had a boy president - not that it really mattered because the president didn't do squat. Every year the boys would decide who they wanted as president and then procede to nominate at least two girls.


It was simple. Boys voted for the only boy; girls split their vote between the two or more girl candidates. There was no platform; no promises; but lots of patronage. (More about patronage later.)

Who knew then that we were being prepared for the real world.

Every year the same drill, with the same inevitable outcome.

The president had real power - unless the teacher didn't like him which was the case with any boy duly elected. So, the teacher would appoint a monitor - the kid who would be sent to the main office to retrieve messages or supplies, but more importantly he or she was the rat, the stooly who would stand up in front of the class when the teacher left the room. When the teacher returned, the monitor would report all the miscreants and their often exaggerated crimes. Recently, a federal law was enacted to protect whistle-blowers and I'll bet Congress had these class monitors in mind when they drafted the law.

I had taught for a while at Abraham Lincoln High School (It was NEVER Lincoln High School.  Either Lincoln or Abraham Lincoln High School) but it wasn't until I joined Meyer Levin Junior High School that I perfected the fine art of patronage. If I had twenty eight kids in my class, my goal was to give each one a job. And they loved it! There were so many kids in my official class doing 'stuff' that I thought about assigning student supervisors.  I was once late to class and when I came in every one was doing his/her assigned job.

Hampton Gathers was my favorite. First, I loved the name. Some days I would call on him five or six times a period, just to hear the sound of his name. Hampton Gathers. He was my main man. This kid was ultra cool before cool was even invented. He was what I unofficially called our lollipop monitor. As important as his job was, it was, at best, a part-time assignment. But Hampton embraced this job with his whole being.

Let me refresh your memory.

Every room had a round red sign, about twelve inches in diameter. Stenciled on each side was the room number. And this sign was attached to a wooden dowel about the size and length of a teacher's wooden pointer. During a fire drill, and other occasions requiring evacuation of the building, the teacher was expected to carry the sign aloft as he and the class behind him left the building. This way, the class, in the ensuing frenzy could easily reassemble.

Now, on paper, this sounds like a plan.

And if there was one thing this teacher shared with his students, it was the opportunity on some early spring afternoon, when the leaves are just beginning to bud, to leave the building for a nice stroll out Beverly Road and left along Ralph Avenue, cross Tilden Avenue and observe the miracles of nature and possibly make a quick detour toward Tomain Joe's Luncheonette.

What this teacher did not particularly like was having to carry the silly sign in the building, let alone out in the street.

Hampton Gathers to the rescue. My main man.

"Had this been a real emergency you would have been instructed to get out of Teacher's way unless you can run faster than him." 

Hampton was pressed into service maybe three times that year and on one occasion for an unexpected fire drill. The latter caused major administrative concern. The smart money put the blame on Hampton who vigorously denied any wrongdoing. Everyone knew it was not a scheduled fire drill because it wasn't a particularly warm day; Dr Herselle would never schedule a drill where students might be required to put on coats. And the last thing he wanted was a posse of piqued panicked parents parading into the principal's office.

My absolute best student assistant was Carol G. On the first day of class, my first day in the school, Carol told me I would need a class secretary and she would be happy to be that person. She was in my 8th grade SP official class.

Any way, Carol, at the ripe age of 13, was better organized and more mature than most of the secretaries I've had since leaving teaching. And, she could print like a typewriter.  Remember, this is before computers. I mean this kid was great. Carol's arrival signalled the end of most of my administrative duties. (She later expanded her duties to be our son's babysitter. How neat was that?)

There was one job in junior high school, because of its importance, that could not be relegated to students. During passing between classes, all teachers were required to stand outside their classroom to observe the flow of student traffic. For what? To break up fights? In Meyer Levin in the sixties? To watch for kids passing on the right or weaving in traffic? Ha! Pity the poor student who inadvertently made a left turn across oncoming traffic to enter a classroom without first going to the designated u-turn area, so marked on the corridor floor with turn arrows. Amazing the power of the system. Three years in the school. I don't think I ever saw a kid knowingly cross that line and if he had, what punishment is appropriate? Well, technically it is a moving violation.  We may have to bar you from graduation ceremonies.  I used to like calling a kid walking on the other side of the hall to see me and see how they would react. Invariably the student would walk forty feet further down the hall, make a u-turn at the designated arrow and come back to where I was standing.  By that time I had forgotten what I wanted to say.

I don't know if teachers were exempt from the white line rule, but until I got tenure, I wasn't going to take any chances.

One more chapter on Meyer Levin - its teachers - and then we'll mosey through the neighborhood again. I'd like to hear from some of you who lived east of Ralph Avenue. No, not you, Billy. You lived south of Flatlands Avenue and that was Canarsie - or Flatlands. Definitely not East Flatbush.

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