Friday, July 7, 2017

The Place Where Many of Society's Problems Meet

     It is upsetting to read that homelessness is surging to a record pace here in NYC - this while the economy is supposedly doing much better. If homelessness is growing in the general population, it is with our students as well. I'm going to preface this post with the statement that one of my favorite students, during my entire teaching career, was homeless. This was before my ATR stint and one in which I was given five classes of computer repair, out of license and with absolutely no training. I was given this program the day before classes started in September. I was panicked, depressed and angry. I didn't sleep or eat much for about a month. I spent six hours a night reading technical manuals while trying to teach myself the material I needed to teach the next day, every day. I am not in anyway mechanically inclined. At first I balked and went to the chapter leader who told me I had to take the program or be charged with insubordination. I told him to go f--k himself and called the UFT, who told me I would be excessed if I refused. After hearing so many horror stories about being an ATR, I decided to do my best. I would come in daily about 6:30 AM to set up the room. All the air conditioners were broken and the latches to open the windows were missing (therefore the windows couldn't be opened). I bought latches and had them installed. Even with two windows open a couple of inches it was a sweat box. I lost twenty pounds during that September. That was just a minor inconvience compared to many hurtles I had to jump. There were no books, so I had to print out the materials weekly for 150 kids a day, for a five day week. I had to get new computer equipment, laptops, old computer equipment, learn an incredible amount of material which included coding. The real kicker for me was I HATED the subject. I asked the principal to give me English, Social Studies, Health, Physical Education - anything but this. He said he would if he could, and he was very supportive of me - however, two students really helped me.
     My daughter introduced me to YouTube, which basically saved my sanity. Every topic, which I didn't understand, (which was every topic) was explained.  The other student that helped me every day, almost all year was a male student, 'Adam'. Adam used to get to my class about 7AM every morning and help me set up. He knew a lot more about computer repair than I did and would usually explain one of the more difficult technical points. We became friendly and I learned he lived in a shelter with his father. He was never disheaveled, or gave any indication that he was homeless. His dad would usually get day laborer work, but it wasn't enough to pay for an apartment. I never asked about his mother and he never brought her up. Most of my students were great but I had one very obnoxious student in an afternoon class (in which Adam was not present). This student, 'Brad', was not homeless, but wasn't being parented. He was the complete opposite of Adam - disheavled, smelly, obscene, and would do his best to destroy every class. One afternoon some of the students came to me and told me Brad and his friends were robbing Adam and beating him up almost daily. (They told me Brad found out Adam was homeless and was using it as an excuse for the beatings.) Adam had been telling me his bruises and black eyes were from karate with friends when I first noticed and reported it. I went to the dean and he insisted on doing a mediation. It was an initial success. Unfortunately, it only lasted about a week and the bullying continued. His father took out an order of protection, which emboldens many bullies because they feel their potential victims are petrified. The bullying escalated as did the seriousness of the assaults. Adam's father wanted the bully removed, but was told only victims were given that option. I did everything I could to quell the situation, to no avail. Needless to say, Adam eventually had to leave on a safety transfer, even though Brad, who was given several court appearance tickets for harassment and several suspensions, stayed in school. I never saw Adam again, but last year ran into one of his old friends (and a former student). He told me Adam got a degree in computer science and was working. Adam never despaired, was always hopeful  and eventually came out of his absymal situation.
    There are many homeless families in NYC now. Homelessness, bullying, lack of parenting and societal indifference all meet at our desks. Try to help if you can.


  1. What a great kid and you are super fir doing all you did and still do.


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Stories herein containing unnamed or invented characters are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.