Monday, May 03, 2010

Tales from the South Bronx

It wasn't easy to teach in the South Bronx.

For $37.50 a day I risked my life from 1972 to 1973.

When the school year ended, I moved up a slum to Bushwick Brooklyn, off Knickerbocker Avenue.

One day long ago, Willie Arvelo saved my life and I wanted to take the opportunity to thank him now.

I will thank him by recalling when.....

I danced around the classroom, floating like a butter fly and stinging like a bee.

Muhammed Ali was champion and I boxed to honor him.

Yet, I wasn't in the gym,

I was in IS 84 in the South Bronx.

PS 66 was across the street and had the hottest auburn colored hair teacher, but I digress.

The kids (most of them large enough to be tested for steroids) were laughing, gesturing and actually, civil.

For a moment, I had their attention.

They weren't throwing spitballs, batteries, walking on desks, tearing pictures off walls or setting fire to furniture in the 'open' libraries on every floor.

I had captured their attention and in the South Bronx, that was a major accomplishment.

As Vice President Biden would agree, this is a big deal!...............

But who was kicking me in the left ear?

One by one, a student climbed into the "ring" with me and we had a 'slap' fight.

The kids never had a teacher quite like me.

Even Rick Dadier, played by Glenn Ford (The Blackboard Jungle) would be challenged teaching at IS 84.

I reached up and felt my stinging ear.

It was hot to the touch and a trickle of blood appeared when I looked at my fingers.

Just then, there was quiet as a woman entered the room.

It Was Mrs G, the principal.

Can you tell me what is going on here Mr. Tarde?

I dropped my stance and considered the process for filing for unemployment.

Most likely, I was heading back to a career as a Good Humor ice cream truck driver.

But I hated that job!

I followed the wrong routes and gave away all the Whammy Sticks.

I am waiting for an answer, Mr. Tarde.

I can tell you, Mrs G.

The voice wasn't mine.

Willie Arvelo had the floor.

I am fighting in the Double g's mrs g.

I fight Saturday night.

Want to come see me?

The class howled.

Just the though of Mrs. G, out of her element in a school setting, walking the aisles of a boxing arena, was a bit much to visualize.

Cut him some slack, Mrs. G.

He's our teach and he inspires us.

Lorraine G, whose most legendary leadership act to date had been to get on the PA system and scream:

There is chaos in these damn halls (and she was right about that)

Lorraine pivoted on those high heels and exited as quickly as she had arrived.

She waved her arms in her best chaotic impression and declared.


The bell rang and we broke for lunch.

I grabbed Willie's shoulder and thanked him.

He pulled away. Don't ever touch me again, mop head.

I will kill you.

I let that sink in.

All in all it had been an interesting morning.............

A month later, I noticed that the third floor had grown very quiet.

I glance outside the fogged windows and noted that most of the students were gathered in the street below.

Fire Drill.

The furniture had been tossed into a bonfire in the open air library.

New York City had paid some consultants millions of dollars to come up with educational solutions to the fact that they couldn't educate anyone.

The result was the open classroom with free standing libraries.

Each library was equipped with casual and recreational furniture and there were no walls between classrooms.

Batteries flew through the air like bullets over Vietnam and the furniture was used as firewood for daily cookouts.

A fight broke out and I pulled apart the two combatants.

As I stopped their pinching, the momentum of their tense bodies took me to the ground with them.

Suddenly, the boys stopped fighting and looked back up at me.

A group of other boy students circled us from above.

They were about to attack me.

My body anticipated the first blow.

You can try to jump me, I managed.

But lay a hand on me and I promise i will break the jaw of the first person who land the first blow.

The boys stepped back.

Not from anything I had just said.

There in the shadows was Willie Arvelo.

Willie again had come to save the day.

Come see me fight, mop head!

Saturday night at the arena. 6Pm.

I fight for the championsheep.

You come seez me.

I nodded.

Truthfully, I wouldn't be caught dead in this neighborhood after dark.

I didn't like coming here in broad daylight.

Years later, I found out that Wllie had won that fight.

He also died in his early 20's in a drive by.

Probably saving a little kid.

Rest in peace, Willie.

I saw the good in you.

Can you imagine if a miracle happened in the south Bronx?

Can you imagine if they really developed a plan to educate the kids?

It would mean kids like Willie Arvelo might have a chance with those whose only tough choice in the morning was whether they would have cereal or pop tarts.

I have remembered the students of IS 84 and that's why I still create teaching tools to give them a chance.

I wish I could have given Willie what he gave me.

At least, now I can try.

No comments: