Diff Eq

 Differential equations sounds hard, and is one of those oft-clichéd phrases alluding to difficulty, but in my experience, it isn’t nearly as much of a mind-fuck as its predecessors – multivariable calculus and linear algebra. “Diff Eq’s” is generally taken during sophomore year of college – after the freshmen weed-out period.
My teacher is great. He’s a middle-aged Frenchman who wears a V-neck t-shirt so his chest hair sticks out. He’s cynical. He’s hilarious. He also has a habit of staring at a single person while he talks. He likes me, and I sit near the front. So he’ll maintain intense, direct eye contact with me while saying something like,

(French accent)

“In the non-constant coefficient case, with a third-order equation we can use reduction of order to make it a second-order non-constant coefficient Euler-type formula and easily solve using variation of parameters…”

staring at me the entire time, never once blinking. And I can’t decide if it’s sort of sincere, or bizarre, or weirdly erotic.
The class is funny, too, because it’s mostly international engineering students and everyone walks in five minutes late late. The class starts at 8:30 AM, which I guess is early for college, but it shouldn't be an excuse. So the students all walk in late and the professor doesn’t say anything because it’s college and what are you going to say? And then there are the four white kids in the class, myself included. George sits in front of me. He’s probably 19 or something but he’s smart at shit. He looks older – heavy-set, big beard, smoky voice, but he’s got young eyes. He’s probably my best friend under the age of 22. He sat a few seats down from me last semester in Linear Algebra and he always had really great questions to ask, and the professor knew his name (= status). He was one of those kids that I would have hated as an undergraduate because he took everything so seriously. Back then, I was in the mindset of how can I do the least amount of work and get my degree. People like George drove me crazy.
So, George one of those kids – front row, extra-intelligent, overly mature for his age. Anyways, this kid George is in my class again this semester so I decided to sit behind him and become his friend. He always turns around to check his answers with me even though he knows I’m a dumb shit. That’s why I like him. The professor puts something on the board for us to solve. George turns around like 30 seconds later and he’s like, so I got e to the x. What did you get? I usually try to make up some excuse to start off with, like

“Uhh, actually tried some different methods… and I’m still deciding which one is best...”

But he's aware. He jumps right in and helps me out, but in a non-condescending way. He even plays along and pretends to be my pal after class. He’ll be like,

“So, what are you doing the rest of today?” or “Do you have another class?”

and I give some answer, but when I’m halfway through my response he’s already swerving off in another direction and usually cuts me off to say,

“Well, bye!”

and he walks away and probably goes back to his dorm to play video games or smoke pot or have sex while I go back to my stupid graduate student office because I’m just an old idiot.

            Want to hear about the other two white people? One is a girl named Nikki. She’s really sweet but can’t get over the fact that I’m old. She talks to me like you would talk to your uncle… you pretend to be pals and ignore the age barrier but there’s always the aftertaste of pretense. I can see it in the way she wrinkles her forehead when she talks to me. I’m just the old man who its in front of her (wait, do all the white kids sit in a row?). Of course all of this is sort of ironic because I’m only 26 but I swear it makes a huge difference. The fourth white person is a guy on the swim team. Actually, he sits right behind Nikki (holy shit). Anyway, He’s beautiful. Tall, built frame, long blond hair pushed back by one of those soccer player things. He brings breakfast to class every day and it’s like 2,000 calories. His eggs smell-up the whole room. The professor always jokes about “bring me some.” Le professeur also makes fun of people with Au Bon Pain cups. He’ll walk up and ask,

“How do you pronounce that?”

            So, anyway, we had our first midterm and it started out well. There were 6 questions. 2 of the 6 questions were a lost cause for me because they were all theoretical. Something like,

“Suppose you had a function that looked like this and we know that a similar function behaves like this then how would you determine a formula to derive another function that looked like such and such…”

Zero idea, bro. I’m a math teacher’s worst nightmare. I memorize the formulas and crunch some numbers. I never understand the theoretical stuff. So on this exam, there were two problems like that – all theoretical – which I answered with something that will probably make its way onto some Reddit forum for mathematicians about all the ridiculous answers that students put on tests.
That means I had 4 out of 6 questions for which I was capable of receiving full credit. Remember, this is college math, so usually a 60% or so is a passing grade. If I could answer those 4 questions, I would be fine. I knocked out the first three with minimal stress – they required some messy integrations – but I think I steered myself straight. Then, the fourth one was one of those part (a), part (b) questions. Part (a) was easy: Use reduction of order to turn this 3rd order Euler equation into a 2nd order. Didn’t the professor stare at me while he told me how to do that? Piece of cake. Pièce du gateau.
But then part (b) says to solve the equation. Well, there are two different methods to solve it. I tried method 1 and it didn’t work. Professor announces,

“15 minutes left”.

Shit. Well, I erased the whole thing and stared at the problem again. I should use method 2. I know method 2 will work. Wait, will it work? Are you sure? Look at it again. I think the right side of the equation means use method 1 because it’s an x3. But does the right side matter? I thought you have to see if it’s constant coefficient or not. Fuck. I was right the first time. But it didn’t work. Well, it should have worked. Try it again.
So I wrote the exact same thing down all over again, right where I had erased it. Word for word. Do you think it worked the second time? Of course not. This is the definition of insanity.

“5 minutes left.”

 Shit. What should I do? Try method 2? I even wrote, “TRY METHOD 2” on the page underneath my wrong answer. Literally. But then I froze up.

“4 minutes left.”

 How is that possible? That wasn’t even a minute. Fuck. Now I’m freaking out. I could easily solve this in 4 minutes if I put my mind to it. But I’ve been sitting here for 71 minutes already and I’m exhausted. Okay, here’s what you do. Put a huge, proud box around your wrong answer and make it look right. Even though it’s obviously wrong.
Okay, the big box looks good, Check my other answers. Did I put something down for all of them? Yes. Okay, good. Time is up.

George waited for me at the door.

“Hey man, so did you get the limits of that one problem to be y squared?” he asked.

He was talking about one of the theoretical ones that I made up answers for.

“Uhh, nah dude, I think I put infinity for that one...”

 George looks at me with a pitiful face.

“Oh, yea, man – I mean – I don’t think that’s right,” he said.

 Yea, I don’t either. “Hey,” I said,

“How did you solve that one problem?” The one that I got stuck on at the end - the one that I put the wrong answer for, inside of a huge box.

“Oh, it’s easy, you just use method two,” he said.

“Oh okay, yea that’s what I thought… but I tried to use method 1 and it didn’t work.”

“Yea, method 1 won’t work for that one. Well, I’m gonna go back to my dorm and smoke pot and play video games and have sex but enjoy of the rest of your day regretting your stupid mistake in your lonely grad school office, man!”

Is essentially what he said.

The Little Things

In the late friday morning - that hour before lunch, where teaching is useless - my rowdy third period chemistry class came bounding in with weekend excitement.
“Mr. Galt, you coming out to the party tonight?”  “Where the weed at?”
As I stood in the hallway, monitoring the transition between classes, I peered into the room across the hall from mine. It looked like a high-profile meeting. Principal, vice principal, instructional coaches. I made eye-contact with the science coach, who sat perkily between drapes of long curly hair. Shit. I bet she’ll come observe me now. We were in the midst of a bloody passive-aggressive war - waged in five-minute increments during which she walked into my classroom, confirmed that I was doing nothing remotely related to the lesson plan, and then walked out without saying a word - a war that could never be won because of my unique disposition: I was qualified and willing to do this job. 

By the time the bell rang the elite meeting across the hall had concluded and the principal - a white-haired lump of a man with a gazillion years of experience - walked up to me and said, “There’s something we need to talk about.” Could this be the day of reckoning?

“You see,” he said, “We had an issue this morning. Three of your girls in first period walked over to the 280 hallway and tried to fight another girl.”“Oh, jeez,” I said, utterly unsurprised, and a bit relieved.“We’ve been having a lot of fights around here lately,” he continued, “And we really have to be vigilant about who is leaving the classroom.”“Oh man, I’m really sorry. The one girl started crying this morning,” I explained, “And she asked to go to the bathroom with her friends and I was like, ‘sure,’ because I thought maybe she had an important issue or something.”“Nope,” my principal said, looking up at me. “They walked right over there and tried to jump this poor girl. So, the police have all three of them right now.”“Alright, well that’s good. I’ll be sure not to let them out of class anymore. Sorry about that.”“No, don’t apologize. It’s a learning experience. You’re doing great things, keep it up,” he said, turning to walk away.

Back in my classroom, once I got the third period clowns settled down, we watched a video clip, made by NASA, about electromagnetic radiation. The video is a science teacher’s wet dream - relevant, informative, great production value. When the clip was over, YouTube had some suggestions for me. The first suggestion was “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

“Ohhh Mr. Galt we gotta watch Bill Nye!”“Yea, Mr. Galt, let’s watch Bill Nye!”“Yea!”I gave it a thought. “Sure, fine.” It was Friday, after all.

The clip started with the 90s theme song: BILL, BILL, BILL, BILL, BILL, BILL, BILL, BILL NYE THE SCIENCE GUY. Then Bill started talking about how different colors absorb different frequencies of light. Basic stuff. 

I smelled danger before she walked in. My instructional coach - whatever that means - walked straight to the back of the room and took a seat next to one of the kids. She looked at the video playing on the screen, then looked at me, then looked at the video playing, then back at me. In a swift movement she removed herself from the desk and marched up to the front of the room where my lesson plan was hanging on the wall. Once back at her seat, she performed a full round of 'look at the paper, look at the video, look at the paper, look at the video' - and then for the grand finale - stared at me with a, “What-sort-of-Satan’s-operation- are-you-conducting-in-my-school” look.  

Man, I just can't do anything right around here.

The following day, Saturday, began early with a 5k road race on the other side of the city. It wasn’t my idea. Iris is a “running buddy” or something like that - she coaches a program called Youth Run NOLA, whose mission is to get public school kids from across the city to get outside and move around a little bit. The kids run after school two days a week and then compete in a 5k once a month. 

Positivity, motivation, and teamwork are the vehicle for this operation. We arrived at the start of the race - right on the Mississippi River - just as the pre-race pep rally was underway. Bandana-clad teachers from all different schools were passing around the megaphone and pumping-up the hundred or so out-of-shape students for their weekend 5k. 

“You can win SPIRIT POINTS by giving the most HIGH FIVES and ENCOURAGING the other RUNNERS!” the caffeinated teachers were shouting to the kids.  “When I say YOUTH you say RUN! YOUTH! RUN! YOUTH! RUN!”

Personally, I’m more of the find-your-zen, meditational runner, but I appreciate the campaign. During the race, I tried my best to stick with my RUNNERS as long as I could, but when the poor thirteen year-old girls starting walking, I bid them farewell and sweated for the final mile or so.

The race concluded at the River Shack Tavern. Picture this: the youth runners are rewarded for their physical efforts with a sprawling buffet of sausage jambalaya, red beans and rice, cheese grits, ice cream, iced tea, and beer. The beer posed a particular conundrum for me. I wasn’t really an official chaperone for this event… right? What if I just took the beer and went inside the bar - where the band was playing - and drank it inside?

I did that - I found the perfect seat in a corner of the bar where the students would be least likely to find me. Then, the mini-skirted girls from Redd’s came along and offered me a free can of Redd's apple cider. I’ll give it a try, obviously. Then, the mini-skirted Redd’s girls came back and offered me another one. Sure, I’ll have another one. I looked at the label on the can: 8% abv. Uh oh.

The classic rock cover band started sounding better and better. After about an hour or so I started wondering what all those kids were up to. I opened the bar door and stumbled out into the sunlight. The last of the students - RUNNERS - were piling onto the yellow school bus for the long ride home. 

“Damn,” I said to myself, “I’m the worst teacher.”

“Mr. Galt, you’re the best teacher,” A student recently told me. “You’re like, a real hippie,” she explained. “Like, you don’t really care about stuff, or no - I mean, like, you don’t really care about the little stuff - but like, you definitely still want us to learn.”

I can live with that.

My Dear Parents

My first weeks living in New Orleans I slept on an air mattress. This was the pre-paycheck era, remember, but also my dear parents had previously agreed to drive my stuff down from New Jersey once I got settled. My folks arrived one afternoon in August with the minivan packed full of all my belongings. My father is very meticulous, so each piece of luggage in the trunk was carefully tied down to the frame of the car with heavy rope.
“In the event of an accident” he assured me, “nothing would shift forward and crush your mother and me.”
I was charmed by the recollection of this characteristic trait of my father, but also remembered the frustration I endured as a kid. I’ll never forget third grade assignment to construct a miniature Cherokee hut – a structure that, with the help of my father, could have withstood an atomic bomb explosion.
As we entered my house for a tour, my mother gravitated immediately toward the silk curtains hanging on either side of the grand windows in my living room.
“I would DIE” to have silk curtains! Oh!”
She soon began washing the windowsills throughout the house. Once the moving was complete, we headed to my parents’ hotel so that they could check in. While my father was inside getting the keys, my mother and I sat on a bench in a nearby garden. A lonely security guard seized the opportunity to ensure our safety.
“Headed to dinner soon?” he asked.
“Yea, we were going to head to a place on Magazine Street,” I told him.
“Oh, okay, I’ll tell you how to get there… you go about two – no three – no two – no, well, you go a few blocks that way.”
“Great, thanks.” I mustered some false appreciation.
“Goin’ to the French Quarter later?” he pressed on.
“Probably not.”
            “Okay, so here’s what you need to know before you go. Put your wallet in your front pocket. And that purse, Ma’am, don’t bring the purse. The thieves here are the best in the world.”
“Uh huh.”
“And if someone ever approaches you and says they’ll bet $20 they know where you got your shoes…”
I interrupted, “Oh yea, ha, I fell for that one before. They guy always says, I’ll bet…”
“Here’s what they say” he seized. “They say ‘I’ll be you $20 I know where you got your shoes’. Then they say, ‘you got your shoes on your feet in New Orleans, Louisiana.”
We offered smiles, stood up, and headed inside.
The room was on the third floor. We walked up a grand staircase in the front of the converted mansion, and then up a second flight in a narrow corner of the hotel. There were only 3 rooms in the remodeled attic. We clicked the plastic key into the lock and entered the small double. The wallpaper reminded me of the dentist’s office when I was a child; the forever-repeating intricate patterns were mind-blowing if you took the time to study them. My father scanned the place nervously and quickly ran out of the room. I exchanged a glance with my mother. I could tell that she missed our humor.
“This is a fire trap,” my father declared as he re-entered the room.
“There’s no way out other than the stairs. Is it hot in here? It’s hot in here. Where’s the thermostat?”
“Tom, you just carried luggage up three flights of stairs.”
            “Where’s the number to the office?” He rummaged through his stack of papers and called the woman who had just given him the key.
“Yes, hello, I’m on the third floor and there is no fire escape. I believe this is illegal. I either have to go down the stairs or jump out the window. What? There’s no other room? I can’t believe this.”
He immediately took out his laptop and starting searching for other nearby hotels. All of them were much more expensive than the fire-trapped room.
“Well, Beth, I guess we’re just going to have to risk it. I won’t be able to sleep tonight.”
A father’s concern can’t help but carry some legitimacy, and I was upset that he had put the image in my mind of my poor mother having to jump out of a second-story window. He ultimately decided to “brave the chances of a fire” and keep the room. He lead the way out of the room, trying to bury his anxiety, and we descended the three flights of wooden stairs – kindling, if you will – to the front exit.
The walk to dinner was enough to put my father at ease. We went to a Mexican place called Juan’s Flying Burrito. I have never seen my parents drink at a restaurant, other than a rare glass of wine, so I was somewhat giddy when my father suggested ordering a pitcher of sangria. My folks have a funny way of thinking that everywhere I take them is the coolest place in the world.
“Just LOOK at the artwork!”
“This is the BEST burrito I have EVER had!”
“Oh, Jon, this is just the GREATEST! I sure am sorry I got all upset about the hotel room.”
We waddled out of the restaurant with full stomachs and caught a bus to the French Quarter. I tried my best to avoid the drunken mayhem that Saturday night (and every other night) has to offer, but the excessive profanity and permanent fog of puke and beer was unavoidable. We eventually found some quiet side streets, but I could see that by that time my mother and father were quickly fading. We took a stroll along the Mississippi and found a place to rest our legs. The gigantic barges trolling along were ominous in the darkness.
My mother told me that she had recently sat down for tea with my high school sweetheart, a girl named Noelle, with whom I had shared my entire adolescence. Her voice sang on about one detail after another, and I nodded absently as I reminisced about the many summer nights in New Jersey that were dedicated to braving the mosquitoes in the name of finding a corner of privacy in which to let the pheromones dance.

When you fall in love with a girl, you give her a piece of yourself that you will never get back.

How much have I lost, I wondered. I thought about my tendency to love easily and fiercely, and then withdraw and puzzle over how I found myself alone again. Here I was, thousands of miles from home, with my beloved parents to remind me what unconditional love feels like. My heart became heavy and slow. I looked up at the river barges. My eyes began to fade as well, so we stood up and took the bus back to our beds.

The next morning, I woke up feeling refreshed after sleeping on a real mattress for the first time in a few weeks. I called my folks and was relieved to find that, by some grace of God, the Prytania Hotel had not burned down. I told them where and when to meet me, and headed out for a morning jog around Audobon Park. I felt sluggish running, as if I had somehow lost the coordination necessary to float one leg in front of the other. As I trudged along, I kept thinking about how much older my parents looked. Their glossy eyes may have been the product of three days of driving, but I have to give the passage of time some credit as well. This is the first time that they were visiting me as a true independent. They were not paying for my rent, my food, or anything else at all. The impact period of their parenting was tapering off, and this was the beginning of the reflection stage. Had they done a good job? Do they think they did a good job? I passed a father dressed head to toe in skin-tight Under Armour running gear, pushing his little boy in a stroller. 

Man, those uniforms are dumb

We met at a Stein’s Deli, “The Only New York Style Deli in New Orleans”, for brunch. The two inches of roast beef that weighed my sandwich to the table validated that claim.
“Wow, Jon, this place is the COOLEST!”
“This coffee is UBELIEVABLE! I wish I had my camera!”
I scooped up a copy of The New York Times that was sprawled across the table.
“If Romney wins, I predict another 60’s revolution,” my father stated. “The people can only take so much until something’s got to give. You know what the real problem is? Congress. The whole point of Congress was to represent the people, but now every single senator and representative is bought out. And money doesn’t negotiate. The richest man gets what he wants, and that’s that. The value of human negotiation has long since vacated the White House.”
“Wow,” my mother interjected, “I need to get a box to take the rest of this sandwich on the road with me.”
We eventually left the paradise of Stein’s and headed back to my apartment for our final goodbyes. My dad had given me his car, which was how I got to the South in the first place, and he had brought the title down with him to sign it over.
“Well, you have to pay taxes on this stuff, so how about I just sell it to you for one dollar?” He offered.
“Wow, I mean, that’s really generous.”
“You’re a good man. Here’s the record of services… the title… some receipts and stuff… and here, I just brought this to give to you for nostalgic purposes.”
He handed me his father’s old notepad. His father was the first owner of the car, and he had kept diligent notes of the gas prices and mileage until he passed in 2003.
“You don’t need to write in it or anything, but I thought you just might want to, I don’t know, just might be a cool thing for you to hold on to.”
My mother took out her camera and started taking pictures of my room.
“Go stand by the drums, I want to get an action shot.”
I sat down, picked up a pair of brushes, and looked up sheepishly toward the photographer.
            “How about we take one more?”
I could tell that she was upset that I wasn’t smiling with full radiance. I don’t know why I couldn’t do it, but it just wasn’t right for the moment. I don’t like to lie in photographs.
My parents loaded up the minivan, tying each piece of luggage to the frame, so as not to get crushed in the event of an accident. I stood around aimlessly, pretending to help with this or that. My dad hugged me first.
“I wish you were a little bit closer, Jon.”
“Me too.” I choked a little bit on the end of my words.
My mother reached up and held on tight.
“I’m really going to miss you.”

They slouched toward the car and boarded up for the long journey back to New Jersey. As they turned around in the wide street, I walked toward the curb and waved. I read the familiar stickers on the rear window of the minivan and felt moisture swelling up in my eyes. By the time they had turned the corner, gravity had won, as it always does, and I was left standing in the road – crying. I hadn’t cried for my parents since I could remember. Not at summer camp, not when the dog died, not even when I left for college. I thought about how my mother used to take me to swim practice in that same minivan. I was the same person, she was the same person, and for all I know, the same swimsuit still fit. Time is such a peculiar thing. Now I was here and they weren’t. I walked across St. Charles and strolled through the campuses of Tulane and Loyola, thinking about loneliness. Then, suddenly, I appreciated Steve and Luke and Hannah.

Yea, I’ll be okay. I have my friends. I have all those goddamn kids. This is going to be fun. Real life.  

Caffeination Deliberation

            About halfway through the school year we decided it would be a good idea to teach “advisory intervention” – math and English remediation – to redistributed homeroom classes for the 30 minutes before real school starts. The kids were accustomed to walking in and doing the one-armed-pillow sleep to catch a break before first period when, all of a sudden, the teachers were expected to deliver lessons to the same tired, hungry students. I was assigned to teach math to the lowest-performing cohort. The kids weren’t too keen on the idea. I tried to do my best, bribing them with donuts for effort, but still got minimal response each day. So, eventually, I just gave up and resolved to project on the board an ACT “problem of the day” and let them decide whether or not to do it. They never do it.
            I’ve actually developed quite the routine for my mornings at Westfield High. I get myself together between 7:00 and 8:00 – you know, check the news, make my copies, zone-out for twenty minutes at a time, pondering life’s persistent questions. When the bell rings at 8:00 I pour my first cup of coffee. I have decided it’s only fair for me to wake up at the same pace as the students. I refuse to be one of those bright-eyed, perky teachers who seem to defy the laws of sleep. If the kids walk in with a smile, I smile back and say, “good morning”. If they walk in with the fuck-you teenager look, I give the brief head nod and leave them alone. It works out quite nicely.
            The only factor holding me responsible for teaching advisory each morning is the roaming assistant principal. She loves to write teachers up for not doing their jobs, and she’s getting good at it. One morning in March I was feeling lazy and decided to bank on getting away with not displaying the “question of the day”. The students trickled in for homeroom.
            “Good morning, Mr. Galt,” said my student, Tesha, as she walked in.
            “Good morning, Tesha,” I said while I dug through my drawer for a marker.
            “I can eat my breakfast in here?”
            “Sure,” I told her. Tesha was 3 months pregnant.
            I found the right marker and walked over to the whiteboard to write my objective for the day. I never planned my objectives ahead of time, so I stood there tapping the marker against my head for a while.

            Objective: Students will be able to

            “Hmmm. Shit. What am I teaching today?” I wondered if anyone was noticing how much difficulty I was having recalling my lesson.

            Objective: Students will be able to indicate the factors that contribute to the unsustainability of the food and agriculture industry in America.

            “Hell yea. That sounds legit.” I typically judge the quality of my objectives based on the degree to which my students have no idea what it means. It’s not for them, after all. We routinely get judged by the administration for the constitution of our objectives, and a student-friendly objective means a failing grade.
            I walked back to my desk and scooped up my coffee cup. As I turned to open the door to my supply room – where the coffee is – I saw out of the corner of my eye the assistant principle begin to enter my classroom.
            I pretended not to notice her and kept walking into the supply room. The door shut behind me.
            “Shit!” I was stuck. This is not the time for this. I couldn’t just walk back out there with my full coffee cup, incriminating myself. I couldn’t just walk out there with nothing.
            “I can’t just stay in here. Wait, yea I can. I can just stay in here. No I can’t, that’s stupid. This is a real job. Shit.” I finally decided to pick up two large graduated cylinders and pretend to be setting up a lab experiment. I walked back out into the classroom holding the lab supplies, pretending to be in a hurry.
            “Oh! Good morning, Ms. Thomas!” I said to the assistant principle with a smile.
            “Good, uh, mornin’, Mr. uh Galt.”
            She gave an exaggerated look around the room at the nothingness, then back to me, then down to her pen, which she landed heavily on the the “teacher write-up” page. She smacked her gum and began to fill out the form. I continued walking with my graduated cylinders to the back of the room.
            “What, uh, room this is, Mr. Galt?”
            I told her. I casually walked up to the front of the room and pulled up the ACT question of the day. I projected it onto the board. The kids all fished pencils out of their pockets. At least they had by back on this.
            “Tesha, uh, you better not be eatin’ nothin’ over there, young lady,” Ms. Thomas said to my student, who I had told could eat breakfast. Tesha had covered her food with a binder, but it was still sticking out a little bit. She didn’t deny it.
            “I’m sorry.”
            “No,” Ms. Thomas said. “Get out. In the hallway. Right now.”
            Tesha didn’t move. The assistant principle made another exaggerated move with her pen onto a “student write-up form”. One of my favorite students – a kid on the basketball team – walked into the room, bouncing with his headphones, and swerved towards his seat.
            “What up, Mr. Galt!” he said.
            “In the hallway. Now. You know I ain’t playin,’” said Ms. Thomas to the kid.
            “What?” he defended.
            “You know those headphones can’t be here.”
            She was picking off my kids one by one! It was all out war at this point. I was hoping I would at least know how to answer the stupid ACT question.
            “Oh, don’t let me disrupt you, Mr. Galt” she said.
            I sheepishly walked up to the board and sovled the problem.
            “Uhh, yea,” I started, “You gotta find the percentage chance that Jimmy makes the basket and then use that percentage to predict that chance that Jimmy will make another basket in the next game…”
            It wasn’t that hard, but the kids didn’t understand it. One student – a kid who’s also in my AP class – pretended to get it at first. The assistant principle left after the first minute or so.
            “Why that lady do that?” the class all asked at once.
            “I dunno, guys.”
            “She be aggrivatin’ me,” Mr. Galt.
            Later that day, at the start of my AP class, the kid from my homeroom walked in.
            “Man, Mr. Galt, that lady never leave you alone, huh? She always be all up in your business and stuff. I know she don’t like you.”
            “Apparently not,” I said.
            “This morning was so funny though, man, like I saw her walking up to the door and you was goin’ into the closet and didn’t see her and I was like ‘nooo Mr. Galt!’”
            “Oh yea, you saw that?”
            “Yea, I was like Oh my God. And then, I was thinking to myself, like if I was you I would just stay up in there any never come out. Just stay up in there for the whole time. But then I saw you come out and you were like settin’ up the experiment and stuff I was like, ‘oh okay at least he’s settin’ up the experiment’”.
            “That’s pretty funny.”
            “Yea, Mr. Galt, I thought you was gonna get your coffee at first but then like, I was so happy you didn’t do that ‘cause that would have, like, really set her off.”
            “Yea, well, I’m pretty deliberate with my coffee.”

Balancing the Budget

I decided to run a field trip for all of my classes to a coastal wetland research center – a small building situated out where all the houses are elevated at least 10 feet above ground (water). We had been learning all about coastal land loss in Louisiana and I thought it would be a good excuse to skip an entire Friday and experience a change of scenery. I excitedly announced the field trip to my students about a week before the event.
            “Alright y’all,” I said, “All you have to do is fill out this form – or forge your mom’s signature – and give me ten dollars and then you get to go on a full-day field trip to check out the wetlands.”
            “What we eat for lunch?”
            “The cafeteria will pack lunches for you. It’s free,” I told them.
            “YOU KNOW I AN’T GOIN”
            “FUCK THAT SHIT, COUSIN”
            “Huh?” I said. “Don’t you eat the school food anyways? It’s the same stuff, just in a brown bag. This way we can keep the cost down.”
            “You see, Mr. Galt,” a kid in the front tried to help me understand, “ain’t no way we goin’ on no field trip unless we be gettin’ McDonald’s or Chick-Fil-A.”
            I could never have predicted such a negative reaction to a field trip. I knew that if I increased the price then no one would go. Nevertheless, I called the wetland place to see if there was any fast food nearby. She said, “no.”
            “Well that was easy,” I thought to myself. “These kids can either suck it up and eat a fucking apple or come to school on a Friday and miss the trip.”
            The day before the trip, I still only had about twelve kids signed up, so I went to the cafeteria during lunch to hunt for my freshmen from last semester. I found Jamal sitting with his girlfriend.
            “Yo, you wanna go on this field trip?”
            “Definitely. Can my girlfriend come, too?”
            “Of course.”
            I found Ja’Cori and Merlin sitting at a different table.
            “Hey, I’m doing a field trip tomorrow, you wanna go?”
            “Uh huh,” they both nodded.
            I was relieved that there was still some hope at Westfield High School for a descent student. Two girls caught my attention as I was walking out of the cafeteria.
            “Mr. Galt! Mr. Galt! Do you want to be in the auction next week?”
            “The what?”
            “The student-teacher auction next Thursday. It’s part of the students-versus-teachers week.”
            “What do I have to do?”
            “You just stand on stage and the students get to buy you for a lunch date. It’s a fundraiser.”
            Hm. That sounds mildly inappropriate. “Okay,” I said.
            The field trip was a success. They didn’t eat the apples, sure enough, and most kids brought hot Cheetos to supplement the cold cut sandwich. The best part was when the field trip guides gave a presentation about land subsidence in Louisiana and my kids knew all about it.
            “It’s like, the sediment from all the other states, ya heard, like flows down the Mississippi into New Orleans, but like, now with all the levees and shit, we be blocking all that sediment from goin' where it gotta go, so now the land be – what’s that word – subsiding, and all the land disappearing and all that.”

            The following Monday one of my girls walked into environmental science and said, “Mr. Galt, I’m gonna buy you.”
            “What? Oh, you mean the auction?”
            “Yea, whatchu think I mean? I’m gonna buy you.”
            Later that day a different student passed by my door, doubled back, and then announced, “I’ve been saving up for you, Mr. Galt. Ima drop a couple stacks on you Thursday.” She wasn’t one of my students, but I recognized her.
            The next day, my same student walked in again and said, “Mr. Galt what’s this I hear about other girls tryin’ to steal you? I told you I was gonna buy you.”
            “It’s a free market,” I told her.
            “Oh, don’t worry, I GOT this.”

            Over the course of the next couple days I heard murmurs of the auction outside my door. Meanwhile, the students had edged out the teachers in the student-teacher basketball game. In volleyball, however, the teachers had dominated 25 – 7.
            On Thursday morning – the day of the auction – I was told that my price tag was a hot topic. By the time the final period rolled around, the boys were getting sick of hearing about who was threatening who about buying Mr. Galt. At the sound of the bell, I walked downstairs to the auditorium to receive my fate.
            The first teacher to be auctioned off was the football coach – a middle-aged black man who frequently drapes a Bob Marley sweatshirt over his beer belly. He was wearing a full suit and sunglasses for the event. As the curtains parted, he coolly strolled out to the beat of Afroman. After some negotiating, he was sold for $5.00.
            Next, the young, white English teacher walked out with an acoustic guitar slung behind his back. He adjusted the microphone and sang a rendition of Sweet Home Alabama, changing the words to be about Westfield High School. He sold for $3.00.
            Ms. Barnes, the history teacher overdue for retirement, strutted out next. This was surprising, considering she needs assistance walking down the hallways. To everyone’s surprise, she began dancing and twirling her scarf to the music of Beyoncé. The kids went nuts. She was rocking back and forth, leaning over, and shining every single last one of her fake teeth in the spotlight. $4.00.
            Finally, they called my name and I heard the popular middle school-era Ciara song bumping through the amplifiers:

My goodies, my goodies, my goodies, not my goodies…

            I let the curtain open first, and then walked out to face the sqeals of a hundred or so teenage girls.
            “Is this legal?”
            I just stood there, sort of smiling, trying to be cool enough to win some revenue for the fundraiser but not so cool as to feel like a pedophile. I thought about Ms. Barnes.
            “Whatever. The rules are different around here. There are no rules.”
            I relaxed my stance and rubbed my fingers together, giving the universal sign for, “pay up.”
            “TWENTY DOLLARS!!!” came from the front row. I couldn’t see who it was. Some commotion stirred up near the source of the bid, and so I retreated from the bright lights and took refuge backstage.
            Following the show, one of my AP students – a reserved, sharp-minded, respectful junior – came up to me and said, “Mr. Galt, I knew I was gonna get you all along. I had $25 to throw down… but then I spent $5 on Chick-Fil-A.”
            “Of course.”