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Why Are All the Good Teachers Crazy? (Book Excerpt)

Real teaching isn't all apples, honor students and cutely-decorated bulletin boards. Frank Stepnowski's Why Are All the Good Teachers Crazy? shows just how real things can get in the classroom.

 

Stepnowski's honest, hilarious stories from his 20 years teaching will ring true for those educators who can understand the challenge, frustration, humor and humanity in teaching. This excerpt from Why Are All the Good Teachers Crazy? gives you a glimpse into one of Frank's riotously funny teaching experiences.


Fair warning: Frank's storytelling depicts actual classroom events and student "colorful" quotes, including some blocked out profanity.

 

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"My Choose are Black" 

Excerpted from Why are All the Good Teachers Crazy

 

  • January 21, 1999
  •  
  • It was my 23rd birthday, and coffee had just shot out of my nose.
  •  
  • One of my students, who I will call Hector Alactacos, because his name was Hector Alactacos, had just, very unselfishly, given me a story that would become one of my “most requested” when gathered with friends and associates.
  •  
  • We were gathered in Room 3, having just returned from the gym. “We” was myself, and thirteen juvenile delinquents ranging in age from 16 to 19 with vocabulary levels ranging from the 2nd grade level to about the mid-8th. Of course, we didn’t have any books to accommodate that sort of disparity in learning levels. Oh wait, I almost forgot, we didn’t have any vocabulary books at all! Silly me! Thank God for Kinko’s, who were nice enough to bind and print (at my expense, of course,) twenty or so copies of a vocabulary book that I had created and typed the previous summer, but I digress…
  •  
  • So there we were, packed like stinky sardines in a classroom that you could fit in the average public school classroom three times. Me and the unlucky thirteen, celebrating my birthday with a game of “spell it and use it in a sentence.”
  •  
  •                “Step, man, do we hafta do vocab now man?” whined Tyree “we just ran ball for a whole period yo.”
  •  
  •                I countered, “Yeah, yeah, I know. I was there, remember? I was the big white guy dominating you in
  •                the post all day. Now sit down and choose up teams.”
  •  
  •                “Come on, y’all,” chimed in Will Bunson, “the sooner we sit down the sooner Step opens the
  •                 window, and the more we play the better chance that Trumaine or Hector’ll say something stupid.”
  •  
  • Truer words had never been spoken.
  •  
  • The class sat. The teams were chosen. The windows were opened. It was on like Donkey Kong.
  •  
  •                “Receive!” shouted Josh, my resident Crip.“ R-E-C-I before E-V-E! I receive that check every month.
  •                What?! I got mad skills, son!”
  •  
  • High fives all around on the red team. (for those of you familiar with gang affiliations and their colors, yes, I made them the red team just to screw with Josh, who was so excited at the moment that he almost forgot.)
  •  
  •                “I hate to break up the party,” I chimed in, “but I before E except…”
  •  
  •                “F___! I before E except after C!” lamented Josh “I knew that s___!”
  •  
  •                “Evidently not,” I said. “No points! You’re up pink team!” (for those of you familiar with male teenage
  •                juvenile delinquents yes, I made them the pink team just to screw with all of them.)
  •  
  • Hector Rodriguez stood up.
  •  
  • I gave him his word. “Choose”
  •  
  • Hector pondered the word like you would ponder a trigonometry problem without a calculator.
  •  
  •                Hector: “Choose….choose…C…H…U”
  •  
  •                Me: “O”
  •  
  •                Hector: “C, H. O…S
  •  
  •                Me: “O”
  •  
  •                Hector “I said that”
  •  
  •                Me: “O, then O again”
  •  
  •                Hector: “Oh, C,H,O then O again……..C,H,O then O again……..Z?”
  •  
  • This went on for some time; meanwhile the young criminals of America association yelled, teased, and generally made a s___   load of noise while Hector hacked through his vocabularic nightmare. Finally, he spelled it and, as I took a long sip from my brand new travel mug…
  •  
  •                “Choose, C-H-O then O again S-E. Choose.”
  •  
  •                “Now use it in a sentence.”
  •  
  • He looked around in desperation, his eyes resting on the Jordans loosely tied on his feet.
  •  
  •                “My choose are black!”
  •  
  • Hector beamed.
  •  
  • Then coffee flew out of my nose and mouth as the room, for one pregnant pause, went silent.
  •  
  • Then it exploded, with Will Bunson taking the lead amid the laughter, screaming, and general chaos.
  •  
  •                “Oh my God, Step, I know I got some learning issues, but that’s some B building *stuff right there.
  •                PLEASE tell me I’m not on the level with this m________ right here!”
  •  
  • * (B Building was the building at Moorzakunt APS where the developmentally and mentally handicapped students were given special attention and education in an isolated, therapeutic setting.)
  •  
  • Hector was one righteously indignant Puerto Rican with black choose.
  •  
  •                “My choose ARE black jese’ !”
  •  
  •                “SSSSHHHHHoooooes you (racial slur) m                    , SSSHHHOOOOeees!”
  •  
  •                “That’s what I said, you black a       b         !! CCCHHHHHOOOOeees, my choose are black, my laces
  •                are black, my hair is black, my hoodie is black and you’re ugly  a        (racial slur) face is black!”
  •  
  • I had been busy cleaning up the coffee and admiring Hector’s run-on sentence capability, but even amid the tsunami of profanity that occasionally engulfed our classroom, racial slurs were not allowed, period.
  •  
  • “ENOUGH!” I thundered, loud enough, and with enough potential menace to temporarily halt the “negotiations” that were about to commence over those particular racial remarks. Suffice it to say, the next hour or so involved a lot of passionate conversation, a few frayed nerve endings on my part as thirteen inner city kids talked and listened (under threat of dismemberment) about how to express anger and frustration without violence.
  •  
  • Eventually, we would get back to learning. Biology, or current events, or whatever could get them back on task, learning and laughing – until tomorrow, when I’d have to do it all over again, like I was never here.
  •  
  • That night, I munched on birthday cake and tried not to act as drained as I felt, I thought to myself, “between the comedy and chaos, how long can I continue to do this?”

 

If you'd like to read more of Frank Stepnowski's tales from the classroom, get Why are All the Good Teachers Crazy now!

 

What did you think about the excerpt? Share your review in the comments section!