Saturday, June 11, 2016

The Unbearable Heaviness of Meaning

Three of my fifteen students pass the promotional test. I agonize about telling the others that they are to be retained in Level 1B. I share my this with Tim, one of the long time tenured teachers. Apparently, Penny next door, who has been helpful to me, is a bit doctrinaire and perhaps a little disapproving as I haven't been slavishly obedient to her instructions. Tim assures me that I have more discretion than Penny's let on and I end up promoting most of my students to Level 2.

I make a Jeopardy! Game with categories like “colors,” “The U.S.” and “food.” We challenge the other Level IB class to a game. I am informed however at the last minute that we have to report to the auditorium to rehearse the promotional ceremony. Students are seated by levels and those being promoted walk onto the stage in alphabetical order to receive their certificates. None of us are sure why this requires any sort of rehearsal. After, the other class begs off the Jeopardy! competition as the teacher says that he needs the last hour of the evening for his students to practice lining up in alphabetical order. We just play by ourselves. I am surprised that they are confused by which animals bark and meow and that the potatoes that come with a McDonald's hamburger are called “fries.” They do know that the American flag is red, white and blue, that there are 50 states and that when you have a migraine it's your head that hurts.

The night of the big ESL ceremony, the students I'm promoting line up in alphabetical order despite not having rehearsed. This isn't even necessary as the names are simply called as I hand the certificates to the announcer so the order really doesn't matter. The students who aren't being promoted are great sports and applaud and whoop enthusiastically for their friends who are moving on. After a lot of soul searching, I decide to give the $35 textbook scholarship to Estella. She scores nearly perfectly on the promotional test and her attendance is practically flawless. I regret not giving it to Juan, who, despite not qualifying for promotion, works his tail off, asks tons of questions and is usually the first to arrive. A handful of students from the highest level class have finished Level 6, the end of ESL. They will begin the high school program in August. These students give speeches. Most have some pronunciation and grammar issues and this reinforces my decision to promote a bunch of students who fall a bit short on the exams.

Penny next door informs me that Peter, the other new, non-tenured teacher has already been offered a position for the fall. I like Peter, an intellectual and rabid Bernie Sanders supporter very much. I know that he needs the job. Nevertheless, I am devastated. It might just be an administrative thing and have nothing to do with the quality of my teaching. But, perhaps I am too green or maybe perceived as being self important and not knowing my place. Peter, while having an MA and Tesol certificate comes from a university teaching background and takes a long time finding his stride with our population. I spend a week designing an elaborate scavenger hunt for the whole school and it's a quite a hit. Peter's choice for a big group activity is merely a crossword puzzle printed from the Internet and way too advanced even for the highest level students. While I am the first to arrive and the last to leave every night, Peter arrives on campus just in time to teach and is the first to sign out every night. Still, he is smart and experienced and an asset to the faculty as a learns the ropes of dealing with a different level of student ability. I congratulate Peter and he is very surprised that I haven't been asked back, proffering that he thinks that I've worked a hundred times harder than he has.

Students are supposed to register for the August session but the necessary forms don't arrive so they'll have to wait in long lines to register with all of the new students. Furthermore, as no registration forms are available there is no indication of the fall enrollment, which would have a bearing on whether non-tenured teachers are to be hired back. So, if I am asked to return it will likely be after school has commenced and for a different level than I've taught. There is a new textbook. If I knew I was returning I would spend some time in the summer preparing myself. Now, if I am called back last minute I'll totally have to fake it.

Ricardo is studying for the written DMV test and I show him the Spanish practice questions on the web. We struggle through the tests together and between my familiarity with driving and his understanding of Spanish, we do pretty well. Students arrive bringing tons of Coke Zero, which they notice I drink in copious amounts throughout the class, chicken, salads and chips. We crank up the music and play a few games. A food related “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” game reveals that Estella is the only student who recognizes a bagel.

Heidi and Eduardo bring their son for the final night party. He is 6 years old, completely bilingual and borderline obnoxious. He is however quite helpful to the students as we play Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Heidi's been laid off from her job making jewelry. While she (like her teacher) has added a bit of belly flesh, after 13 weeks, I finally conclude that she's not pregnant. Eduardo looks ashen and exhausted. He is crushed when I show him his less than stellar test results. I decide to meet any of the students who are interested at a park once a week to practice conversation. When I assure Eduardo that this should be helpful to him, he gestures towards his wife, of the unintelligible pronunciation and mutters, “Especially her.”

Most of the regulars are being promoted but I feel bad for the others. Eugenia, one of the coat ladies, only completed 3rd grade in her country. Her verbal skills are pretty good and she makes enormous progress on listening and reading but her scores on the tests are abysmal. Juan, who hardly misses a session, is required to work late the week we spend preparing for the test and his scores are so low that I just can't justify passing him. For the last night, I prepare certificates and small gifts for both to commend their dedication and progress. The class applauds wildly when I present them.
Lydia arrives done up like a schoolmarm, ankle length skirt, sensible shoes, blouse with a high lace trimmed collar and hair in a tight bun. She presents to me, on behalf of the class, a shockingly expensive Macy's gift card.

I am asked if I will be teaching 1B again in the fall and I tell them that I don't know if I'll be teaching at all. When they ask why, I don't betray my own confusion and simply respond that it has to do with funding. They leave unregistered. I leave not knowing if I'll be back and wondering too about my stamina in the event that I am asked to return. Since beginning to teach I have carried, in addition to my briefcase, a large tote bag full of books and lessons. Palpable, when I leave the giant bag at home today is a strange lightness. It is a relief not to have the heavy thing cutting into my arm. There are no more lessons to plan or games to invent. Still, I'll be waiting for a call to return in August. I already feel a bit empty without that heavy bag to schlep around.

1 comment:

Rosemary said...

I bet they made the decision knowing you own your own business, and they're assuming you don't need the money like the other teacher does. You did an amazing job!! And the Dept. of Education does not make it easy at all. Out of date books and computers in this day and age is appalling. I know you made a huge impression. My hope is if you want it, the job will return to you one day....x