Saturday, February 3, 2018

Skying the Limit


Number One Son is be vexed by standoff between his bank and utility company regarding some monies that were taken in error from his bank account. I advise him to pour on the charm and “channel the relentlessness with which you tormented me throughout your childhood and adolescence. Just keep asking for a supervisor until you get what you want.” He texts me., “Adulthood blows.”

I' tell anyone who will listen about my pleasant downtown dining experience. Wanting breakfast before the march, when we ask a security guard and he points us in the direction of IHOP. There is one near the house It's been a while since we could avail ourselves of the children's menu, so I haven't been in eons. I order an omelette with my choice of ingredients from the Over 55 menu. It is dainty and admirably not greasy and comes with pancakes, which I dislike. The omelette however is as good, and almost better, than at most of the Eastside bruncheries. And the coffee isn't bad.

The landlady of my office informs me about a rent increase to begin in March. I am surprised that she's giving such long notice, when thirty days is typical. It isn't until the afternoon that it dawns on me that it's only thirty days until March. I can't remember the last time that I've fallen but this week I take a spill. I still can't figure out exactly how it happened. Somehow, I'm reaching for a dog biscuit to give Opie as a reward for not eviscerating a passing yappy dog and then, bam. My arms are scraped. An hour or so after, I realize that the rest of my body aches. I do my office work from home for a few days and certain movements elicit an involuntary yip.

There are only three weeks of the trimester left. I know that we're falling behind. I take a couple of aspirins and soldier on. I'm fine on my feet, shuffling around the classroom in my comfortable shoes. It's changing positions that causes tiny spasms, so my only martyrdom on behalf of my students is really just gingerly getting in and out of the car. But I wouldn't trade rough and tumble youth for crepe-y tumbling advanced age. The past has pretty much been reckoned with. The present is satisfying. The future, however much there is of it, will be lived with a well honed perspective and pretty much not giving a shit.


This is the week of a particularly onerous Civics exam, one of four tests that are essential for our funding and that I am required to administer during the thirteen week trimester. There is also a battery of promotional tests that I will start next week. To my delight, for the promotional tests, I've been authorized to beta test the new versions that I created with a partner. I am confident that these materials will better assess student progress and reduce the anxiety generated by the previous versions.

I am unable however to weasel out of the the Civics exam, which is about locating community resources. The district has provided some practice materials however the attached map, even zoomed in at 200% is completely illegible. I ask the other teachers about the test, hoping to snag some better practice materials, and the only response is, “Nah, there's nothing. Awful test, isn't it?” I ask about the actual administration of the test. Everyone's evasive and coy. I make an exercise for practice that is similar to the one on the test, matching up places with locations noted on a map.

The real test is also hard to read and understand. The first part is merely a matter of copying information about various facilities like the library and the post office. The second part is a confusing mess of matching letters on an impossible to read map to numbered places. I administer it creatively.

I understand how important it is to teach our students to navigate their neighborhoods and locate what they need. Previously adult education funding was based on student attendance. Now it's based on student accomplishment. Which is sensible to me. And even the chosen competencies are worthwhile topics like community health clinics and dealing with the DMV. Unfortunately the materials are ancient and just plain lousy.

The preparation materials that I create for the Civics test require some spoken practice so I don't consider it wasted time but the hour or so they take completing the test could be used oodles more productively. I write down a list of a dozen places like gyms, and junior highs and drug stores in the area. I show them how to activate speech recognition on their phones and ask about specific places. I do not laugh when Sancho yells “den-teest” again and again only to keep getting Denny's. They find a dozen locations in about fifteen minutes. I am aware how pathetically underfunded the Adult Division is but it's sad to waste time with out-dated, irrelevant materials.

Two TESOL grad students from USC are observing my class once a week. They are girls from China. Their coordinator says that they might do some practice teaching but they don't want to. That's fine with me. Their English isn't great. They type furiously on laptops while I conduct business per usual. The first part of the class is normal. I just do my thing and the students do theirs. Then there's this stupid guessing game. We do stuff like this all the time. You write down the name of a food in your notebook and hide it. Then we ask you questions, like “Is it red?” “Do you eat it for breakfast?” in order to guess what you wrote down. We have done guessing games a million times. I always choose a smart student to practice and show the others how to do it but I say, “Is it a vegetable?” and Julia says “It's a carrot.” I try again to explain. “Secret! Shhhhh.” “Okay Fabricio, is it a vegetable?” “It's a donut.” I run out of smart people. Why are they suddenly acting like idiots? Is it like some political grudge they have with the Chinese or something? I move on to the next chapter and apparently “Guess My Food” is just an aberration. We plow through a couple of conversations and talk about what foods we like. We discuss the difference between “I like” and “I'd like.” There is a spirited fruit and vegetable bingo game.

The end of the teaching week, 8:45 Thursday is a sacred time. I always get to school way early to get everything set up and then just sit and chill, listening to NPR and steeling myself for the onslaught. I open the door to my room and there is no floor. I am delighted that it is being replaced as there are places that I suspect aren't weight-bearing. But I haven't been told. I am sent to room 8 which is at the very back of the main building and tricky to find. I try not to annoy the workman and hurriedly grab as much of my teaching stuff as I can carry from my own room. The tech guy comes by and sets up the computer and projector for me. For all of my dissing, in fairness, I appreciate that tech support at my school is readily available, genial and reliable.

Room 8 is a vocational classroom. There is a program to train early childhood center assistants and the room has nursery d├ęcor. Lots of toys and posters and affirmations. There is a huge rainbow banner “He Sky is the Limit.” I suspect that most of the students are English language learners and do not notice the long ago fallen “T.” The room has round tables. Thursday always has the lowest attendance but I think my text of the room change is misunderstood on purpose and taken as an excuse to skip class. There are only 27 students. I love the round tables but if all my students show up, they won't fit. We practice ordering food and writing down each other's order. We learn that “What would you like?” is the same as “What do you want,” except more polite.


I have some play money from the 99 Cent store sitting around. They have trouble with “Mary goes to the store.” They say, “Mary she goes to the store,” or “Mary going to the store,” or “Mary she going to the store.” I make up a bunch of sentences, some correct and some with the type of error they're likely to make. I divide them into teams, give them $200 in play money and the list of sentences. They take some time analyzing the sentences and then the auction begins. One team bids $100 for “The girls they like go dancing.” Another $120 for “Do your mother call you every day?” They outbid members of their own team. We're going to really do some cramming before the promotional test. Daniel, the pothead, quietly shepherds his team, buying up the correct sentences cheap towards a stunning victory.

Despite being told to keep the students until 8:45, as my room is adjacent to the school exit and far enough from the office, I let them go when we're done. Sometimes five or ten minutes early. Sometimes we run late though so it pretty much evens out. Room 8 however is right in the main building. I tell them that I don't want to be fired and kill time by making them tell me their weekend plans. “I working.” “Play soccer.” “Go to movies.” Stella, a sparkly twenty-something smiles. “I'm going to party with my boyfriend.” “Be careful!” I say, on automatic pilot. The more advanced students snicker. The bell rings and I schlep my stuff back to my room. Again, I feel guilty for looking so forward to the end of the teaching week and rueing how quickly Monday rolls around. It is a weird sensation, being utterly drained and completely full in the same instance.

I intend to serve out my two year contract. While a million things could change, I suspect that after this, I will retire. I laughed at my aging parents, sharing the senior dinner at Norm's and clipping coupons. Afraid of falling. They stopped driving at night. They stopped driving. And here I am now, gasping at the astonishing velocity of time. If anyone wants breakfast at IHOP with me, you can have the pancakes.




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