Saturday, January 27, 2018

One Option

I am reminded why Himself and I were destined to be when we both confess to musing a lot recently about not wanting to die but also not being interested in immortality. Not that the latter, to my knowledge, is an option. 

A breathy Number One son calls.
 “Did you hear?!”
 “Mark E. Smith died!”
 “Who’s that?” 
Turns out that it’s a leader of a band, The Fall, one of Himself’s favorites and barely on my radar.
 “He was sixty.” 
“So am I.”
“Is Dad home?  He’s going to be very upset.”

He won’t.  We tell Himself’s 90 something father that my own father, who he’d known for decades, has died.  “I didn’t like his jokes,” was all he had to say.  At the time I thought that this was more than a bit insensitive but now, a decade older myself, I realize that as we age, it seems that for psychic preservation, one gets a bit “death numb” and you don’t really get it up for anyone but true intimates.

I march with about 600,000 women, men, dogs and a cat on a leash, through the closed-off streets of downtown.  I carry the same dippy sign as last year, “May these times make us better people,” when Spuds and I march with the girl who has and then hasn’t been his girlfriend, more times than I can count, for the last couple of years.  I don’t ask anymore.

The presidential administration is about as I’d expected.  At least the nukes have yet to hit.  The spirit at this year’s march is different than last year’s shell-shocked iteration.  Despite our authoritarian leader, the year since the first march marks an enormous shift.  Like Mao’s Cultural Revolution, inevitably many individuals will suffer for the sake of making the future better for the masses.  People lie.  Some men will be destroyed when falsely accused of sexual aggression.  I discuss the Aniz Anzari case with a friend who posits, “As a lesbian, I’ve always assumed that this is how most dates with men go.” 

While there are some who would exercise control over a woman’s body, for the most part, as far as legal standing, women and men are equal in this country.  But men wield such an enormously disproportionate quantity of power.  Something is very wrong. The direction that the movement has taken over the last year will prove watershed and the dynamics of social and professional relationships between men and women seem on the cusp of changing profoundly. It is likely that women who are just entering the workforce will be less likely to endure being ass grabbed. Nor will the tacit price of a dinner date be a blow job.

My classroom teaching is easier this trimester but for an extra mandatory test to administer.  This objective is to familiarize students with resources in our area.  One of the tasks involves matching up numbered places with letter designations on a map.   I infer that Himself thinks I’m an idiot when he has to explain to me how this test works.  Even with new glasses I can barely read the map.  And as I notice my students squinting and moving up close to the white board, I know that many of them have never had an eye exam and likely couldn’t afford one. The confusing test will be administered in an “alternative” fashion. Otherwise the class is pleasant.  A couple of students are a bit tipsy this week which livens things up. 

Pedro, likely homeless and definitely unwashed, attends regularly so I’ve been unable to avoid pairing him with another student.  The room is so crammed and difficult to move around in, I pair students based on where they’re sitting.  Most of them are really good sports about sitting with Petey, as they call him, but this week, I pair him with Belinda.  She wrinkles her nose at me before grudgingly practicing the conversation.  Belinda has not been back to class since, but this might be just a coincidence.  I give Petey my sandwich, which he takes without thanking me.  Poor manners, I suppose, rank rather low on his list of problems.

There are a couple of mandatory meetings for the ESL Department, devoted to updating the curriculum and testing materials.  The group I’m stuck with grumbles and accomplishes almost nothing.  However, for a handful of us who care about this, there are special work sessions during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. 

For the most part, the department is stuck in the 90s, designing multicolored school calendars in fifteen different  whimsical fonts to embellish the requisite comic sans and lots of cutesy clipart.  I am paired with a smart, good natured, experienced teacher to complete the revision of materials for our level 1B.  He agrees that it’s time for a digitally administered test. We immediately click and marvel at the volume of quality work we manage to generate in our brief work sessions.   I spend hours finding handsome public domain photographs and illustrations.  We create an exam with a professional  appearance and designed for an adult population.  We believe that it will much more accurately assess progress and readiness for the next level of ESL than the current instrument.  For the offsite teachers who have no access to IPads and a few OGs who don’t like computers, we devise a paper version. 

My co-creator sends me a copy of the test after formatting by the department.  I open it up to find that much of our artwork has been replaced with cheeseball Holly Hobby clipart of little girls in nurse uniforms and little boys as doctors and blow as gasket.  I torment my colleague with a barrage of irate e-mails.  I can vent only to him. I know I have to keep my mouth but it’s a big slap in the face. Before my cohort can respond, I realize that the office has used the written version of the test.  We’d eliminated all but the essential illustrations to lessen the number of printed pages.  The clipart was added to the spots where our handsome selections have been removed. We can replace the awful stuff with the materials from our digital version.  No harm.  No foul. I apologize and promise not to bother him again until after a recuperative weekend.  I arrive at school and the vice principal pulls me aside noting how wowed she is by our testing materials and notes that she will be proud to submit our work to the division.  This is the first positive input I’ve had since I’ve started at the school and it goes a long way.

Despite a fatigue on par with having two kids in diapers, I am buoyed also by my students’ warmth.  This builds as the semester flies by and I get to know them better.  There are a couple of teachers I’ve identified as kindred spirits and chat with briefly as we sign in and out.  There are also teachers, who demonstrate in training sessions, grumpiness and resistance to using a computer.  Others have rebuffed either my requests for advice or attempts at pleasant chitchat.  I’ve given up on them and proffer no more than an indifferent nod when we pass in the hall.  I have smugly deemed them incompetent and unfit to teach. 

I have lessons fall flat.  Sometimes students are baffled and sometimes they’re bored.  While I am able to use a lot of the materials I’ve prepared for previous classes, I still spend more time prepping than I do teaching.  I’ve been at it, this go-round, for about a year.  I suspect that I will not return when my two-year contract expires.  Some of the teachers I look down on have been at it for decades.  They’ve endured a nearly complete decimation of the adult division, crumbling classrooms, a complicated ever-changing barrage of paperwork and batteries of tests to administer and year without a salary increase.  I’m just a dilettante and realize that the teachers who’ve been out it forever and teach twenty or thirty hours a week instead of my mere ten, are likely just beaten down.  While I have nothing but admiration for my students, their grit and good natures, I’ve failed to extend the same generosity of spirit to many of my colleagues.   

Pretty much the march is about judging other people’s signs.  Some are very clever, but some are vulgar and angry.  My 24 hour a day addiction to CNN makes me angry.  The thought of syrupy, juvenile clipart adulterating my carefully constructed test makes me angry.  I am irritated by burned out teachers who work on auto-pilot and resist change.  But immortality is not an option.  And mortality I think is better spent cultivating a generosity of spirit and unbiased empathy.

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