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Friday, February 07, 2014

Delaney Cards

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What do you mean you don't know what a Delaney card is?

If you attended a New York City public high school in the fifties or sixties, you know what a Delaney card is.

In any case here's a refresher course:

Welcome back, class.

First, let's take care of some housekeeping chores. My name is Mr. Berger and I am your homeroom teacher. When the late bell rings you WILL be in your assigned seat so I can take attendance.

I'm going to hand each of you a Delaney card. For those of you new to high school or new to New York or can't remember anything prior to last June, these cards serve a bunch of purposes. Each of your teachers will ask you to fill one out and each teacher may use it for different purposes but its primary use is as a seating chart and a way of my keeping attendance. I'll get to know most of your names within a week. Some, like the young man facing the back of the room, I'll learn a lot sooner.

Yes, they're called 'Delaney cards.' No, not da laney card. What do you mean 'Why?' They're Delaney cards because they were created by Edward Delaney, a Harvard graduate who taught history at DeWitt Clinton High School."

It's easier to explain what a Charlotte rouse is than a Delaney card. "Hey, yo, teacher! I dropped my Charlotte Rouse on da laney card."

Wanna make it a complete trifecta? "Hey yo, teacher! I dropped my Charlotte Rouse inna my egg cream and it spilt on da laney card."

It don't get no more Brooklyn high school than that!

"Yes. Print your name and all the information called for on the black side and print your name on the red side." Yes, in ink. OK, then you can use pencil. No, you can't borrow a pencil. Yes I know it's small. What do you mean you made a mistake? It just asks for your name and address. Yes, I know it asks for personal stuff, but I need to know your name if you're going to be in this class. Yes, even if you're in the Witness Protection Program. No, you can't use your pen name."

And so continues the unique rights of Fall in New York City high schools. And the first forty minutes of the semester.

Each Delaney card was put into a slot in a Delaney book corresponding to the row and seat of the student. Six or eight rows across; six rows deep. This works if the room is set up in the traditional configuration of classrooms with desks bolted to the floor. One year I had an official (homeroom) class that met in a lab or woodworking shop. Don't ask.

At the beginning of the class each day I would take attendance either by calling the names - a good technique for the first week until I got to know the students - or by scanning the room for empty seats, looking in the Delaney book for the corresponding card, turning it over to the red side and drawing a line through the corresponding calendar date.

I also learned to leave extra time at the beginning of the first few classes so the students could remember their seat assignments or negotiate changes. Unlike some teachers, I didn't care where the students sat -except for those with valid reasons for choosing a particular seat. (Having to sit next to the cute blond did not qualify as a valid medical reason even if the sun cast a shadow on the desk you originally chose.) But after the first day or so, that was it. You chose your seat, live with it - unless I moved you.

Delegate: the first rule of good classroom management - and sanity. And there's no better task to delegate than class attendance. There's never a shortage of students willing to take on the role of attendance monitor. Picture the thrill of standing in front of your class of peers and marking some fellow student absent. A minute ago, you were just one of them; now, that maroon Delaney book in your hand signaled awesome power. Its status is the equivalent of the junior high school color guard or elementary school chalkboard eraser monitor.  (What a great way to get even with some guy who said he'd call and didn't.  Just flip the card over, put a line through the date and wait for the damage to settle in.)

The front of the card was personalized by each teacher. I would put in various codes and if I wanted to garner extreme fear in a student who had just committed some capital offense, I would make a big deal of putting a mark on his or her card. It usually took about two weeks before I forgot what all the codes, dashes, and symbols meant.

Every once in a while an attendance monitor would ask me what some of the marks meant. Invariably the monitor would be mysteriously replaced by someone less inquisitive or at least smart enough not to ask. Test scores and grades were entered in a separate book.

Impersonal? Maybe, but, hey, I had thirty-plus kids in each of five classes I met daily. By the end of the day I considered myself lucky if I remembered where I had parked my car. 

No one had to teach me the importance of handing each student only one Delaney card - and collecting one card individually from each kid. None of this passing a supply of cards back ("Hey, teach, I didn't get no card." when you know you gave each row six cards.) This method also reduces the number of sophomoric obscenities that have been around for a hundred years. What it doesn't do is eliminate all the phoney phone numbers. The war never ends.

As the semester wears on, the alibis and excuses become more numerous - but less inventive.  Often, I would offer a 'by' for a truly imaginative, original story. I would be amazed at the creativity from a kid explaining his absence, who, when asked to write a compositon would come up with a blank stare and a paper to match.

"Roberta. Why were you not in English yesterday?  What do you mean you were home taking care of your sick sister?  A week ago you told me you were an only child and asked if I could adopt you. Also, I saw you in my homeroom class yesterday morning, and then I saw you fourth period outside sitting on my car smoking. That's why your Delaney card has a line through yesterday's date, and that's why the Cutting Office was notified."

And so it goes.  Every day.

Well, not every day.  There were weekends and school holidays!


Jeanne said...

Boy do those cards bring back memories. Going to P.S. 190 when I lived in East New York, those cards were quite popular. While you most definitely "can not go home again", that doesn't mean the memories you had of those days (especially if they were good ones), should be done away with as well. The majority of the time, I thank God for the time when things that mattered the most weren't politically correct, because it's vastly different from anything these children are learning these days. Days and times "never" to be repeated again in our life time, and I'm not so sure 'moral-wise' that's such a good thing. God help us all.

Jeanne said...

Thanks for the memories EngTchr, you're right on the money with the Delaney Cards, which most teachers during that time wouldn't be without. My version was from the '60's, as I was born in 1959 and went to school during the sixies and seventies. What powerful memories they are indeed.

Anonymous said...

Funny! 50's, 60's no how about 1970's

I was one of those students and since I became a teacher I have taken full advantage of them. after many years teaching in New York I now teach in Connecticut and I am the only teacher who uses them. I guess I should teach others the value of it.

Anonymous said...

I've taught at 4 NYC schools. At some they were mandated at others they were optional, but they're still around!