Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Trump Adjustment

The writing that I've not been doing here for about five months accounts for my longest writing-less period for over a decade. And it's the chicken and the egg thing. Am I sad because I'm not writing or not writing because I'm sad? The host of a political podcast, when asked how she is, says “Good. Trump adjusted.”

After graduation Spuds and I drive his beater Toyota back from New York. We spend time with friends and family, eat well, see a lot of art and cruise through Zion and Bryce Canyon. This will matter as one of the great experiences of my life. But when we stop in small towns and gas stations in parts red I feel a tinge of disgust.

I am not hired back at the adult school I worked my butt off for last year. There is no response when I submit my resume there for a newly opened position. With no optimism whatsoever I send a few resumes for other adult ESL teaching positions. I am summoned for an interview. I mention using a few educational apps which are about as complicated as Facebook or Amazon and, ta-da, I am hired because I am a “tech person,” gray hair and all. The word “Technology” is in the school's name. I submit a long term lesson plan and the administrator is in awe that I am able to create a table in a word processing program without using a template. Another teacher informs me that you are considered a “tech person” if you can attach a document to an e-mail.

An early piece of school correspondence via e-mail however has TWO attachments. The body of the e-mail announces a back to school meeting and notes the date and time. The first attachment announces a back to school meeting and notes the date and time. The second attached document contains the agenda for the meeting. Has anyone ever looked at the agenda of meeting beforehand anyway? I guess if you're making a presentation maybe...The rest of us look at an agenda slavishly while the meeting is in progress, praying for expediency and checking items off, one by one.

I like the teaching. I anticipate that the district bureaucracy and Keystone Kop efficiency will chap my hide. It does. I am refused photocopying from a book of copiable worksheets that accompany my textbook because the book itself is copyrighted. My nightly attendance averages 45 for a low level class. There are about twenty students in class last year. Over six weeks in and I still don't know all of their names. There are a couple of boys in their early twenties who are less deferential than any hispanic student I have ever had but I keep them busy. When I check their birthdates on their registration slips most of the women who I think are my age are about fifteen years younger. They all sit together.and read and write at a second grade level. They are shy about speaking. They understand everything. I have to be careful about muttering under my breath.

There is one woman in between the younger and the older in both age and ability. I call her Sourpuss. During the break she holds court in my room and students from other classes come in. There is some sort of commerce quietly in process. One night an administrator pulls me out of class to tell me that a student has complained about me, that she understands nothing and hasn't learned a thing. I am devastated and barely able to get through another two hours of teaching. I express to the boss how upset I am by this remonstrance and also subtly suggest that interrupting a teacher in the middle of class for this might be a crummy idea. The administrator swears me to secrecy and informs me that the complainer is Sourpuss. A change of teacher is not offered but the administrator assures Sourpuss that she will speak to me.

I spend hours deconstructing the lessons I've taught. The other students are learning. They seem to like me. It's a huge class and I don't know all of their names but I manage to exchange at least a sentence or two with each student in the course of a class. I rely on name tags to help me with names. The reverse side has question marks which students flash at me discreetly when they need extra help I also use the tags for breaking the students into groups. I am putting group labels on the students' name tags and Sourpuss's is gone. She enters the room and I greet her and she glares at me silently. I ask her where her name tag is and she sneers and shrugs. I explain that the lanyards are mine and not the school's so if she finds it at home to please return it. I make her a new name tag. She throws it back at me. “Why do I have to wear this?” I explain in Spanish to make certain that I'm understood. She refuses to wear it. The other students are astonished. I let it slide. While I am teaching, her phone rings, she answers it and conducts a conversation in her outdoor voice. During the break, she holds forth close to my desk. A few feet from me, Sourpuss goes on loudly in Spanish about how ineffectual I am and her displeasure at not being transferred to a better teacher. Then she returns to the whisper she uses to sell whatever the hell it is that she sells.

I tell the administrator that Sourpuss must go and there is no argument. She agrees to speak to her but is going to be off campus for a few days. I'm to tell Sourpuss to leave and go speak in the office on Tuesday. Knowing that Sourpuss is a very loose cannon there's no way I'm going to tell her to leave campus for three days. I ask an advisor in the office if I can send her over to him. He agrees to tell her that she had to go. She arrives and I tell her to go to the office. I'm ignored. I tell her again. “Break” she says. I tell her that she must go immediately. She leaves a bunch of bags. I try to call the office and ask that she be escorted back to my room to collect her stuff but my classroom phone is broken. While I am digging for my cellphone, Sourpuss returns, grabs an assignment and takes a seat. I ask the teacher next door to watch my class and rush to the office. I am assured that Sourpuss is informed that she's to return on Tuesday. A few minutes later another administrator and a security guard show up to extract her, without drama fortunately, from my room. As far as I know she hasn't returned to meet with the administrator. I think that when the security guard shows up she figures out that the evening's events are at my behest and not her own. I cannot remember being faced with such overt animosity since junior high. Sourpuss either misconstrues something I say and/or is wounded and unhinged. I tell myself, as I would tell a friend, not to take it personally but an unease lingers. A couple of weeks of peaceful and effective classes will likely set me right. And I'm going to figure out some pretense to take all of their pictures and learn their friggin' names.

One advantage of the four night teaching gig is less CNN. I admit that I resented all those stupid storms because the focus shifted from coverage of the steady drip, drip, drip, that will lead to Trump's inevitable comeuppance. I am addicted to indignation. I wonder how all the pundits and satirists, who've hit pay dirt, will fare when things return to normal. But perhaps, this won't be in my lifetime. Ray Moore of Alabama waffles on whether LGBT people should be executed and is removed from the bench for vociferously refusing to acknowledge marriage equality. He will likely be elected to the U.S. Senate. Nevertheless, I voraciously pour over reputable publications' coverage of Trump and it is hard to imagine that something won't stick.

Spuds' birthday has fallen on Yom Kippur before, as it does this year. As I write this he is on a plane to New York where he will celebrate his 22nd birthday with friends. After four months in L.A. he determines that his heart is in New York and on very short notice, his employer transfers him to Brooklyn. I've checked out the lease for him. It's a done deal. The clippers jam the night before he leaves and for the first time in many years, Himself will have to leave the house and spring for a haircut. I don't cry in front of Spuds. For the first time in many years we are indefinitely without a kid in the house. My business and teaching occupy me. I'm almost finished with an online TESOL certificate program. It is satisfying, in my small way, to assure immigrants that they're welcome, needed and respected. And I appear to be writing again. But there's an undercurrent of sadness and dread. I don't know if it's the likely permanent empty nest or the tragedy that the country I'd always taken for granted as essentially ok, is so essentially not. Maybe it's because now when I look in the mirror I see my mother's face and am reminded of having not having proffered for her adequate compassion. Perhaps a day of fasting and reflection would prove tonic but I'd probably just obsess on coffee and food.   

1 comment:

John L. Murphy / "FionnchĂș" said...

L'shanah tovah tikatevi 5778. xxx me