I Want to Get Rid of Tony

Every day between 12:36 and 1:31, Tony's behavior ties up a good chunk of my class. There's his late entrance. His refusal to sit in his assigned seat. His refusal to read quietly.
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President and Mrs. Obama read to second graders at Capital City Charter School in D.C. Terrific.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan worked wonders at C.E.O. of Chicago Public Schools. Love him.

No Child Left Behind may be left behind. Finally.

There's money in the stimulus package to rebuild public schools. Thank God.

I'm a 15th-year English teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and though I hope Obama's administration will bring much needed changes to our public schools, for the moment the promises and plans don't concern me. Right now, I just want get rid of Tony.

But it seems until Tony's caught setting fire to the West Gym or shooting some wannabe he catches chatting up his girlfriend, I'm stuck with him. Doesn't matter that Tony, a first-semester ninth grader, ditched my class 26 times and carried a zero average going into the final. To date he has been suspended only once, for one day.

While his classmates read silently or respond in writing to essay prompts, Tony cracks out his markers (banned on campus) and tags. He tags his gang name and his crew's names. Sometimes he tags and then crosses out the names of rival gang members he'd like to see dead.

Maybe I should show more of an interest in Tony's hobby: defacing school property; alas I feel a responsibility to teach his 23 classmates.

And there's the rub.

Every day between 12:36 and 1:31, Tony's behavior ties up a good chunk of my class. There's his late entrance. His refusal to sit in his assigned seat. His refusal to read quietly. His refusal to write in his journal (which the school gave him). His refusal to stop harassing whatever girl is sitting closest to him.

Tony: Hey girl. You got a boyfriend?

She ignores him.

Tony: Don't act like you don't hear me. I know you hear me.

Female classmate: I'm trying to read.

Tony: Gimme your phone number.

She ignores him.

Tony: You like to smoke? I can hook you up with some fine weed. You on MySpace? I'll MySpace you.

His refusal to stop shooting gang signs at his classmates. His refusal to stop trash talking.

Tony: Hey, gimme a sip of your water.

Classmate hands him a bottle of water. Just as Tony brings it to his lips, he stops.

Tony: Hey, you got herpes? The sex kind? I bet you do.

I've written two letters to the dean spelling out in detail Tony's crimes and misdemeanors, including his refusal to accompany me to her office. Halfway there Tony stopped and said, "I don't have any f--ing time for this," and walked away.

I've met with Tony's mother and the dean. Mom told us that she's raised three other sons all of whom graduated high school. She doesn't understand. Tony behaves fine at home.

Recently I sent Tony to the dean's office with a note describing his latest antics. When I saw the dean later and asked about my letter she said, "I'm dealing with extortion and blood today. I don't have time for Tony."

I met with the counselor in charge of potential drop-outs. After a three-week wait, I was told that in two weeks Tony would be pulled from his fourth period class once a week to attend a group therapy program.

In the meantime, Tony disrupts my other students' learning experience.

So I pray that Secretary Duncan's Department of Education discovers innovative ways to keep kids in school, to raise test scores, to hire effective teachers. I'm counting on President Obama and Congress to push through a stimulus package that will help modernize our public schools, but I can tell the good folks in D.C. this: if they really want to improve public schools today, if they want test scores to rise, drop-out rates to fall, if they want schools to be safer, and teachers to teach more effectively, first they need to find a place, off campus, to heal Tony and the tens of thousands of kids like him.

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