Jan. 28th, 2010

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I accidentally sleep in. The alarm goes off, and I think I've hit snooze, but really, I hit the on/off button. It amazes me that sometimes when I am very tired, I can reset my alarm to go off again in 45 minutes and program a backup nap alarm and have absolutely no memory of it, whereas other mornings turn into the potential for disaster, like this one. My bedroom seems awfully bright when I finally realize that it is after 7:00. I should rush at this point, but I do not because I resent rushing, especially on Wednesdays, when I know that I will be at work until 6:00, or sometimes later, especially because this is the last week of the semester. No matter what time I wake up, I give myself fifteen minutes to eat breakfast and drink most of a cup of coffee. If I don't have those minutes in the morning, someone might die that day.

I roll into the building later than usual, and it's amazing to me to see that no matter how late I have ever been, I am never the last one in the building. Someone is always pulling in behind me, which only ever makes me want to push it and see just how late I need to be in order to be the last one there. Last year when I ripped the bumper off my car and then had the murdering Yemenis fix it and Katie was giving me a ride, she'd usually show up very late and then explain that we were really not that late. That's when I learned that pretty much, the building doesn't get moving until about 8:30. When I first started working there, I was there at 7:15. Then I extended that until 7:30, which felt very late. Now, I usually leave my house at 8:00 and get in at the same time as most of the rest of my department. Weird.

Greeting me at the door is always Matt. Matt has recurring brain tumors and has had tons of surgeries that remove the tumors and extend his life, but he has lost abilities that I certainly take for granted, like the ability to infer information or to remember facts for much time. Still, he tries to do nice things for people, like hold the door for me every single morning, no matter when I arrive. Seeing him this morning made me feel guilty about the coffee and sausage I took the time to consume this morning. Matt always says, "Ohhh right," when he doesn't know something obvious like that the people in the movie are not in the classroom or that hyper-empathy syndrome does not exist, that it is not 2025 and that Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower is not a real story because we're still only in 2010. Science fiction is not a good genre for this kid, but it does no good to use hyperbole (which I do, all the time) or sarcasm (which I do, all the time) or metaphors or similes (which I do, all the time) either. The other kids in that class- -which is Redux, a collection of formerly expelled and/or pissed off and unmotivated boys, mostly, repeating English 10-- used to be cruel to Matt, but one day, after he left, I said, "Matt is off limits. You can make fun of each other, and you can make fun of me, but under no circumstances may you make fun of Matt." I explained the tumors and his challenges, and since then, they've given him space. Vernon has taken Matt under his wing in a way, which makes me tear up when I think about it because it's beautiful and necessary and makes me love human beings.

The longer I'm around these at-risk kids, the more I see that what binds them together is a collective love of music, and that's what brings me closer to them too. We've spent entire class periods on discussion days ditching the curriculum to talk about the allusions in what it is that they are listening to. Tyler, by far my favorite kid in there, is playing a show in Portland soon and I agree to go if I can get someone else to go with me. He's amazingly talented and smart, and when he tells me about when he ran away in 8th grade to hop trains and hitch hike, I tell him that he's just like Natty Gann except with drugs. He laughs, and tells me I need to listen to Streetlight Manifesto, which I do, and then we talk about Albert Camus and then existentialism and the tricky nature of morality, and I realize that the difference between honors kids and at-risk kids is almost nothing. Both are hungry for more information, more relevant information, more real history. I tell them about Howard Zinn and say that they should look into A People's History of the United States. And it's odd to find out later that he died today. Weird. Of 25 of them in the course, eight are failing. I care about that way more than they do. I'm not sure if I'll miss them when I have a group of 25 kids next semester who are highly motivated honors kids. Next semester in my honors class, Tyler will be my TA, which I rigged because I think the class will give him something for his brain to eat.

The two propositions on the ballot to shore up the state budget passed last night, which means that there is a pretty good chance that I won't be laid off again this year, and that's a relief even though I have decided that no matter what happens, I will not let myself care about this in April when the anxiety starts to ramp up about how to fund the coming year. There is nothing I can do about it anyway except try to handle whatever comes my way with some degree of grace, and so far, I am not sure how successful I have been when it comes to grace. While I am taking in this information, Cienna comes in and says that she wants her parents to read the essay she wrote for my class last year, the one about the house she spent her earlier childhood in, the one that reveals a sexual assault. When she wrote it last year, she swore me to secrecy, made me promise that no one but me would ever read it. It's a promise that I've kept, but something happened this year-- she formed the Black Student Union and formed a stepping group that performed at the MLK assembly, and she blew me away with how bold she was, and I sent her a note to tell her how proud of her I am. She tells me that something changed in her and she's tired of being so quiet, and it's time to claim her life and part of that means showing her mother who she really is. I send her to class, and then I look in my stack of secret essays. I find it, and I re-read it, and it is gorgeous and haunting. I also find her essay about her brother with autism and her essay about her parents' assumption that she too had autism because she did not speak until she was four years old. She only sang, and now she knows that singing is her god-given gift. I comment on her papers one final time, and then I seek out her class through the scheduling office, and then I drop off the papers. I tell her not to lose them because they are the only copies.

For the next hour, I grade. I hate it.

For the hour after that, I deal with a woman in my department who is the embodiment, to me and to the administration and to the counselors, of everything that is wrong with the institution of education. If this were a business, and if our students were customers, she would have been fired years ago. Instead, because she is so high maintenance, she is guaranteed small classes in only the levels she wishes to teach because honors children do not complain about difficult teachers. I'm not using the term 'difficult' to mean that her classes are challenging-- maybe they are-- but rather to denote a level of insanity that drives wedges in between people. If I had to make a poster of why there is an achievement gap, her face would be in the middle of it.

What she wants, at least today, is for me to give up the laptop I've been using to store my gradebook and access my teaching materials. She thinks that the projector in her classroom is a "powerpoint machine" and that it will magically make presentations of what it is that she wants to teach. She thinks that the information is in my laptop. I am reminded of Matt when I try to explain that "power point" (and I use air quotes when I explain this) is software, and she actually needs to MAKE the presentation. She thinks that I am trying to sabotage her. I am

>--- < this

close to losing it.

I explain to her that the laptop is not magic. I tell her that she has the magic in her own computer. I do not tell her that it's a decade into a new millennium where people communicate with each other through a series of tubes now. I think, but do not say, that if she had brain tumors, she would say "Ohhh right" and then move on. I wish that she had brain tumors instead of a sense of entitlement. For the next hour, my blood pressure is too high for my age. I switch classrooms; I travel; I teach three different classes in two different places, and the thing that keeps me sane is my magical laptop. If she wants it, she'll have to take it from my cold, dead hands. I imagine destruction. I do not carry out said destruction.

Next is my third period class, which is a difficult group, much in the same way that my co-worker is difficult, which is to say that they are crazy. We're doing state testing, which requires a silent environment, which is nearly impossible for this current group. We're so close to the end, that I don't even care about them trying to be quiet. David, who is the most challenging student, turns in his test early. I tell him to take it back and check his spelling. He does. He says that it's his best work yet. When he leaves, I read it, and he's right. It really is his best work-- it's about his adopted father and how he does not let the people in his life know how much he cares for them. They leave, and my next group comes in, and they are easy. They use the whole period to write, while I grade.

I think, but I cannot be confident, that if I bust it out tomorrow, I can actually use Friday to plan next semester instead of frantically grading. I hate, absolutely hate, this time of year.

At the end of the school day, I have fifteen minutes before a meeting, my final one as department chair, thank Christ. I decide to call David's adoptive father and read him the essay. I call his cell phone. When I tell him that I am David's English teacher, he asks what David has done this time. I say that I'm calling for a good reason and he jokes that a good call is not a good thing because he was looking forward to beating David this evening. I laugh. I am all about child abuse humor. I tell him that I know David's terrible history and how difficult a child David is and that I know that David was deemed a lost cause. I say that I know that the studies show that these kids can't bond, but I want him to know that when David does not think anyone is looking, he admits that he loves people. I read him the essay. There is silence when I am finished. David's father is crying. He says, "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you." I hang up, and I go to the stupid meeting.

The meeting lasts until 5:45. In it, we discuss closing the achievement gap. Children of color do not test well, and we can really bring our scores up, as a school, if we look at the ethnic group with the fewest representatives in it and then target those kids. So, let's look. We have the fewest American Indian children. So we need to figure out who they are and then really try hard to make sure they pass the state test, and then maybe we'll get a better score on the school report card.

It's been one of those days, and I sort of go off for a while. I say that I think this is a horrifying discussion. I say that as soon as we begin to separate students of color in anticipation of them being low achievers, then we have failed as educators. My speech might be the stuff of some sort movie or something if only 1. I am more eloquent or 2. anyone actually gives a shit. As soon as I am done going off about institutionalized racism, I regret it. I think that I am turning into the woman who wants the magic power point machine. I decide to shut the hell up, and it's a good thing it's my last meeting.

I talk to Dave the chemistry teacher for the next hour. He does not seem to think that I have behaved irrationally, and I am grateful for his vote of confidence. I take this opportunity to vent about magic powerpoint machines and budget cuts and institutionalized racism. Dave nods patiently. I appreciate it.

I come home, and I pet my cat, and I drink two glasses of wine, and I write this, and I make a mix of songs about birds. Who wants it?

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