Hi! Elizabeth Rose here. A few words about the genesis of Yo Miz (the blog): In Sept 2006, my part time job as a teaching artist (literary songwriting, music production, creative writing) in a progressive NYC public high school morphed into a full time job after several years. Even though I was recording my cd of original tunes, Sleep Naked, and subsequently, developing my one-woman musical comedy, Relative Pitch*, I took the position. It was great: I taught at 3 small public high schools, producing DVD yearbooks, drawing upon the creativity of the students. After a year, my position was dropped (budget cuts) and I was automatically placed in the Absent Teacher Reserve (ATR) along with many other “excessed” teachers. Luckily, my home school was able to hang on to me. For the next few years, I won grants totalling $325,000, taught creative writing and the required Autobiography course. In September 2011, everything changed. I learned that we ATRs would not be allowed to stay at our home schools. Instead, the DOE would put us in rotation and send us to a new school every week.
At first, I thought I’d just go back to free lancing and devote full time to my projects. But this opportunity was too juicy to pass up. Stick around and get an inside look at a cityload of schools? You betcha. I could be the eyes and ears for curious outsiders. Journalists are generally not allowed to observe classrooms…but I could. All I’d have to do is show up and write about it! Awesome! Maybe I could make this story a new play, a song cycle, or a made-for-tv movie. Maybe I could add a new character to The Avengers crew: how ’bout EraserWoman – a cyberbot /principal who aims her deadly virus at impending budget cuts?
The possibilities danced in my brain. I stayed. I started rotating. School to school. I took notes. Then, in December, 2011, I met a student, a recent arrival from the Ivory Coast. She is a beautiful 18 year old girl I call Mignon. Her story blew me away. She was literally trapped in high school by absurd Regents requirements making it impossible for her to graduate. She was living an academic version of the film, Ground Hog Day . Except it was no comedy.
Every semester, she had to sit for 2-5 difficult Regents tests. Every semester, she received another series of “F’s.” She was learning, with great consistency, that she is a Failure, despite the fact that she escaped with her life from her country’s cruel civil war. “My mother locked me in to the house for some years ’cause they were killing Muslims,” she told me. (I mean, that’s gotta count for something, right?) But no. Failure in January. Failure in June. “I never got to go to school,” she added.
This was cruel and unusual punishment. I had to tell her story. It had to be a book. So I began putting it together: a book about the kids, the schools, the neighborhoods I visited as a peripatetic pedagogue. It’s about New York City with all its riches and opportunities. It’s about how lucky we are to be born or immigrate here. Unless, of course, you’re barred from participating due to the re-segregation of our schools. Unless you attend a school, literally across the street from Lincoln Center, but have no means by which you can take advantage of the place. It’s right across Amsterdam Avenue – but an invisible barrier keeps you from its treasures. Just because you have the bad luck of being poor.
But don’t worry. I promise I’m not going to rant like some hand-wringing, self-appointed do-gooder. Much. I hope the stories speak for themselves. Mark Twain’s snarky quote notwithstanding, I hope everyone, including the folks who make public education policy, are moved by the kids. There are 100,000 teachers in the NYC public school system. They all have plenty of stories, trust me. Yo Miz (the book) is merely my account of my year on the merry-go-round. I had lots of fun with the kids during last year’s rotation. We laughed. We sang and danced. We spit some mad rhymes. We listened to each other. We learned some important stuff you’ll never see on a Regents exam.
Today, in this first week of fall, 2012, I am launching Yo Miz, (the blog), as I continue to write Yo Miz (the book). It’s full working title is: Yo Miz: [in which a perfectly adequate teacher is exiled from her home school and assigned to 25 NYC public high schools in one wacky year]. That’s the title of the book. Not the blog. The blog is simply called Yo Miz. Have I over-explained myself?
It wouldn’t be the first time. Anyway, I hope Yo Miz (the blog) will make you laugh. Maybe you’ll learn something. Maybe you’ll participate and we’ll get a great discussion going. Keep an eye out for the book. It’s coming out soon. Promise. Oh yeah. Almost forgot. You have a homework assignment: Please go to the “comments” section and give us something to bat around. Due tomorrow, 8am:)
*Relative Pitch = If U Want Me, U Can Have Me, Right Now!! (working titles change:)