Thursday, November 26, 2009


Among students, the text is the preferred method of communication. It's informal, quick, and enables one to pass on a message without all the messiness of human interaction. South East High school has a no cell phone policy, but enter any classroom and the majority of the kids have a cell phone: a Razor, an Instinct, a Blackberry, an iPhone.

Ironically, 90% of the school is on government food stamps, I have never personally witnessed a student pay for food. Ever.

Which only makes sense, because while you can live without food, but you can't live without a phone. Take away a kid's phone and you are taking away their baby, its like amputating a limb. Some of them would rather be suspended, or even expelled, before giving up their phone.

Despite this, many students still correspond by using one of the more delicate and sensible forms of communication.

The note.

Its more cumbersome, but using notes is much safer then texting, especially in class where a phone can be snatched away. A note is much more egalitarian, it can be passed from person to person and no phone is required to participate.

I'm making the rounds in 2nd block when a student hands me a slip of paper. "Hey Mister? Could you pass this over to Crystal?"

I stare at the student, then look at the paper, which has been folded over in half. For a second I am momentarily stunned. Did a student actually ask me to pass a note? Isn't the idea of notes to whisper secrets across a room away from the prying eyes of the teacher?

Did this really just happen? Did a student actually hand me a note to pass across the room?

I open it, it's a garble of misspelled words written in a combination of street slang, text abbreviations, and broken English. The grammar police would burn it on site.

I stride up to the board and begin copying the first sentence.

"What are you doing, Mister?"

"Correcting your note."

I write the following on the board:

OMG for reals
is he is into yew
Wassup is he hot

I shake my head, clucking my tongue as I rewrite the first sentence.

"Oh my god, for real?"

"It's real ladies and gentleman. Not reals. The only "reels" I know of are film "reels".

The class starts to laugh.

"Second, "yew" is spelled Y-O-U. It's a vowel blend, a diphthong. "Yew" is a kind of tree, not a pronoun." I point at the misspelled words with a marker. "Finally, there is no such word as wassup. It's "what's up". Understand?"

"But that's how we say it."

"How you say it and how you speak it are two different things."

I look the rest of the note over. There's more garble, but it's too much of a mess to correct. I pass the note over to Crystal, whose face has turned bright red.

"Next time, proof read your notes. Don't make me correct this again."

"Okay, Mister. Sorry, Mister."

"Hey, Mister Leiken," another student asks, holding up a sheet of paper.


"Would you correct my note?"

"Put that away." I snap.

"But it's got lots of mistakes."

Put it up on the board, put it up on the board! C'mon mister, put it up. The last one was funny. Do another, do another!

I make a note to myself to not ever correct a personal note again.

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