Saturday, January 13, 2018


The three-week school vacation is over and I dread surrendering the weeknights (that I’ve mostly spent on the couch watching TV, doing crossword puzzles and playing Scattergories on my phone) to the classroom.  During the vacation, I organize classroom files and realize that the arduous accretion of teaching materials the previous trimester greatly diminishes the time that I now spend planning.  I teach now with greater ease and accept that if there’s an error on a worksheet or an assignment is too easy or too difficult for some of the students that no one will die.  

The custodian warns me that the roof is leaking and that the faculty restroom is flooded.  In a corner of my classroom the tiles are worn away, exposing rotting floor boards.  I earn $4 more an hour now than when I worked for the district in 1991.  There is a fancy color printed certificate in my mailbox.  It is in recognition of my perfect attendance and signed by the principal.  My name is spelled incorrectly.  I have worked at the school for fewer than twenty weeks.  My colleagues and I are, ostensibly, professionals.  Adult professionals.  Underpaid, adult professionals who teach in crappy crammed classrooms and don’t need to be acknowledged for the accomplishment of not getting ill.  
Like last class, there are a handful of genial, courtly guys in their forties.  They understand a lot more English than most of the other students but struggle a bit with reading and writing.  Johnny, a carpenter, is kind of a hippie type with a long pony tail held in a beaded clasp. He is one of the friendliest and always contributes sagely to class discussions.  He knows everyone’s name and is a warm greeter of new students. 

Pedro doesn’t come to class every day.  I assume that he is homeless.  He smells bad and when he’s there I try to keep partnered and group activities to a minimum as it is uncomfortable to be in his proximity.  The school police officer enters my room and asks if I’ve seen a homeless guy lurking around.  I show him Pedro’s picture and vouch that he is a student.  He actually has the books and with a rough rasp, his English is pretty good.  Johnny calls Pedro, “Petey.”  He pats him on the back and stands next to him, helping him write a sentence on the white board.

The end of class on Thursday is significant. I do my office work from home on Fridays. I don’t get dressed until it’s time for one of the three dinners a week I enjoy with Himself.   I realize that Monday is a holiday so I score an extra evening of downtime. 
I throw together a lesson about Martin Luther King.  Many years ago, black people from Africa come on boats to the U.S. They are slaves.  Most of the slaves are in the southern part (point to map) of the United States.  There are many farms and agriculture.  The people in the northern part (point to map) of the United States say that slavery is bad.  We do not want to have slavery.  The people from the South (point to map) say that they need slavery for the economy.  The North (point to map)  says, “No slavery in the United States.”  The South, (point to map) says, “OK.  We are not the United States.”  (write on board-Confederate States of America).  But, the North (point to map) says, “No.  You are the United States.”  There is a very long war.  Many people die.  The North wins the war.  The president is Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln says, “no more slavery.”

Now are things perfect for the black people in the South? (point to map).  No.  They are only a little better.  Black people have different schools.  They cannot eat at restaurants and have to use different bathrooms. 

When black people ride on the bus they sit in the back.  Rosa Parks, a woman in Alabama (point to map) says, “I don’t want to ride in the back of the bus.”  She is arrested and goes to jail.  Martin Luther King Jr. is a minister at a church.  Church. (praying gesture).  Min-is-ter.(preaching gesture).  He says that Rosa Parks is right. It is bad for black people to ride at the back of the bus.  It is time to protest.  But violence is bad.  They tell black people not to ride on the bus. For more than one year black people do not ride on the bus.  The bus company makes very little money.  The court says that black and white people can ride together on the bus.

There are other problems. Martin Luther King speaks about many problems and how to make life better for black people and other minorities.  Many white people did not like him.  A man shoots (gun gesture) Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

Short film from You.Tube  with biography of Martin Luther King, footage of Jim Crow and protests.  Explain that in the south, a long time ago, they call black people “colored.”  Things are better now.  Obama is president but still there are white people who don’t like black people.  Or Latino people.  Or immigrants.

Once, after class I make a snipe about Trump to a student when he inquires. But otherwise the subject is moot.  Driving to school however I hear the “shithole” remark.  Every day it seems that I could not be any more appalled but apparently my capacity for increasing indignation is infinite.  And on the anniversary of the Haiti quake and the birthday of MLK, the floodgates open.

People sometimes hate people that they do not know or understand.  It is bad now.  It is very bad for immigrants.  Think about Los Angeles with no immigrants.  But most people in Los Angeles do not like Trump.  California tries to protect immigrants.  Do you know about the big march to protest Trump last year?  How many people in Los Angeles march?  (Students guess.  Write on board-25%)  There is another march in two weeks.  It is better if many people march.  You can march too.

2018 is probably a very bad but 2019 may be better.  There are elections this year.  Many people say, I am sure that Hillary will win so I don’t need to bother to go to vote.  Do you think that they will say this again?  I don’t think so.  I think one good thing is that many more people will vote now.

The 2018 election can make things better.  The U.S. government has three parts.  (Write on board-Executive Judicial and Legislative.)  The “Executive” is the president.  The” Judicial” is judges in the courts.  The Legislative is people from every state (point to map) who work in Washington D.C. (point to map) to make laws.  Usually, there is a way for the judicial and legislative branches to prevent the president from doing bad things but now most of the legislative branch listens to Trump.  But in November there is an election and the legislative branch may change to people who can keep Trump from doing bad things and help immigrants.

I give them a big homework assignment for the long weekend which only a handful of them are likely to complete.  We play “ticket out.”  They draw from the hat a numbered slip that has a discussion topic. “Tell the teacher about your best friend.”  “Tell the teacher about your brothers and sisters.”  “Tell the teacher what you eat for lunch.”   They march up to me in numerical order.  “My best friend is Danny.  He very good.  Work hard.  Nice.”  “I have one brother, one sister.  My brother, he in Los Angeles.  My sister, she in Honduras.”  “Pupusas.”

Unlucky number thirty-nine tells me that his favorite flavor of ice cream is peach. All week long I think about that Thursday bell that frees me for three days.  It rings and all I feel though is how much I like being with these people. I’ll probably earn another perfect attendance certificate.

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