Saturday, December 9, 2017

More Blather about Trump and Teaching

My nose is running and I attribute it to days of smokey air. I take an antihistamine. By the time I get to school I feel a fever coming on and I use up half of the single box of Kleenex that the district allots me for a school year. I go on teaching, attempting to discreetly step out the classroom door to blow my nose and stuffing soggy tissues in my pocket. Recounting this I remember to empty the pockets of my jeans before throwing them into the wash. There are two pain in the ass tests that have to be administered in a single week and one class session is slashed by two hours for a teacher's meeting. It would be too late to get a sub and the deadline for the second test would be blown. I try to handle the test materials as minimally as possible. It's been ages since I've had a cold and I realize how infrequently in my pre-teaching life, that I am crammed into a small room with 40 people who don't get flu shots. I'll stay home next time I'm sick but even with the best sub a setback is inevitable. Like most of my students, I have no sick leave or benefits. But of course, if I miss a few hours of work, there will still be food on the table and my phone will stay connected.

I expect to lose a lot of students after Thanksgiving vacation but most of them come back. I am still smitten with the Ethiopians and am recognizing a handful of the other students with that certain glint. There are always students I particularly like and a few whom I'm a couple degrees below being not crazy about. In a “too many tests and too little time” week I've reacted slightly harshly to a rather churlish young man who is slightly fucking with my administration of tests. Perhaps if I pay him a bit of extra attention when he's not showing off it might satiate his need of attention.

I am being observed by an administrator on Tuesday night which is a cause of slight agitation but otherwise the coming week is light, with only two full nights of instruction, a museum visit on the third night and a school dance to celebrate the holidays and the three week vacation. I am told that it is expected of the teachers to dance and I actually dread this more than having my teaching evaluated.

This phase of my life will be associated with feeling stretched, as my daytime hours are consumed by CNN and clicking from the New York Times, Washington Post, Politico, The Guardian, Huffington Post...while I work at my office and prepare lessons. Then at night my world is a group of mostly undocumented students. Housekeepers. Cooks. Gardeners. Custodians. Mechanics.  
There are always a couple of entrepreneurs, in their thirties and forties. Their spoken English is pretty good and they're eager to hone their grammar and learn some basic writing. They run small businesses and have skilled trades. They exude a trustworthy earnestness. The older male students are courtly. They pick up things that I drop and rein in the occasional rambunctious younger student.

While it's a hotbox, I'm with people I admire. I try to make sure they know that here in California, they are welcome. Perhaps the location makes them somewhat less vulnerable than in other parts of the country with regard to being undocumented, nevertheless the atmosphere since the election is changed. The city would come to a halt without the labor of immigrants, largely undocumented. My students get this. Despite being vilified and disrespected, my students know that their cheap labor keeps things humming along. When I'm not with them I obsess on Trump, and delight at every new sign that his demise is inevitable. There is certainly personal gratification as the Russian onion sheds more skin but it is particularly comforting when I look out at my students and know that it won't always be like this.

Yolanda is one my favorites. She has the highest test score in the class and, but for a reticence about speaking, she would be in a much higher level course. Once in a while I pass out a word search at the beginning of the class. I never both to print the key because I don't waste time with them solving the puzzle. I say, “Take it home and finish it.” They hover over the puzzles, rapt and they require no attention from me while they try to solve them. I'll attempt the puzzle myself just to see how hard it is. Yolanda is a machine. She solves the entire puzzle before I've found only a few words. She marks student papers more scrupulously than I do. Her eyebrow arches slyly when she's amused and she's one of a very few who gets all my jokes.

Most of my fellow teachers teach two classes. They grunt at me when we pass and watch the clock and squirm at meetings. My classroom is used in the morning by a friend of a friend. I pick up after him and he helps me navigate the idiosyncratic administration. I attempt to initiate collaboration with others who teach in the low levels but my overtures are largely ignored. The advisor who could potentially be the most helpful is curt and officious. I do appreciate the quick maintenance and repair of classroom technology but I am hobbled by the lack of support and surprised that there is so little sense of community.

I am looking forward to a three week vacation. I still think all the time about quitting. And then some lesson I've slaved over will go right and they'll actually demonstrate that they've learned something. How could I not do this? The verdict now is that I'll soldier on until I'm too burned out to be effective. The bureaucracy is so dispiriting but so many of my students model persistence that will likely buoy me indefinitely. As will witnesses the inevitable downfall of POTUS, his sleazy family and cronies.