“I been fixin’ to finish my pillow, love. I dead gone dreamt about it! That bitch be cold, cold,” D. says by way of greeting. It’s fourth block on the Friday before Halloween, and today we’re finishing our sewing unit. Those who finish early can work on their Dia del Muerto skulls, but most of my male students are still “poppin’ that needle.”
You might ask me, “Ms. A how did you get thug life boys to sew?”
And I’ll say: “Investment, children.”
Investment Strategy Part I:
Start a chant. In particular, my students enjoy a little call and response (i.e. What do real men do? Sew!)
Encourage the men to grunt whilst sewing. (i.e. Why, T., you’re looking quite manly there, can I hear a grunt please?)
Investment Strategy Part II:
Invite male members of the community to testify their mad sewing skillz (i.e. Hell yeah, I be poppin’ that needle!)
During second block, we headed down to the cafeteria to listen to a local jazz band. The teenage students sat uncomfortably in their seats while the teachers wiggled and popped. One teacher took out her umbrella and began a second line. I joined in on what appeared to be the electric slide but actually turned out to be the “BUS STOP.” We waved hankies in the air and grooved when the saints came marching in.
I received mixed reviews on my moves. C. said, “I ain’t gonna lie, Ms. A cut that shit up,” but L. said, “girl, you looked like you was about to fall out. Law, you ain’t got no rhythm.” I told her she was just jealous. She said, no, she’s just pregnant, and we ain’t about to make her miscarry.
Fifth period, we gathered downstairs and split into four groups. The objective? Pumpkin carving. With strict instructions to never let the blade out of my hands, I led fifteen unruly students into a class room. We designed a two-sided pumpkin with a scary maw on one side and a spider’s web on the other. We added two lightening bolts for good measure.
Removing the seeds and pulp proved a novel process for most. Disgusted by the stink and gore of a gutted pumpkin, some elected to wear latex gloves. I appalled them by dramatically licking my fingers after scooping out a generous handful barehanded. “Girl,” T. said, “that’s just nasty.”
Despite my “fire” carving skills, we were voted runners up. I could have kissed the judges for their rare display of common sense. I’m afraid the controversy over me being the art teacher may have started a riot among the students and staff alike. Nevertheless, my team took a loud stand for our cause. “You be down bad! Man, fuck you! Fuck ya’ll. That pumpkin be hit!”
C. declared that he would no longer be listening to any of us except for Ms. A. This won’t be a huge change for anyone except for me.
In the end, T. begged me to let him take home the pumpkin, and I gave him strict instructions to light a candle, put it inside, and set it out on his front stoop. He walked away with the pumpkin cradled in his sweatshirt.