All four alarms were set. Oh, TJ, where did you go? I live three minutes from my job, but I need a little time, a little time to take a nice shower, have my coffee...it doesn't help that I have to get up now when it's dark outside. It was never dark in TJ. Full sun city, with a few hours of darkness while everyone slept.
"Can I smell your breath?". "Qué??". "Can I smell your breath?" the little girl answered. I breathed into her face. "Smells good!" she responded. Must have been those two Nicorette mints I hot boxed.
"Your glasses look like butterflies". I hate wearing my glasses, but my eyes are slowly burning out and I was forced to wear them. Maybe my glasses aren't so bad. They look like butterflies.
"¿Cómo estás?". "Mal," the kid answered "someone cracked the window of my neighbor's house. They didn't take anything, but they tried to get in". "Umm, where exactly do you live? Are you out of district?" I answered. Mental note to self: Rental insurance.
"Just take a picture of your fuse box so that we know the electrical has been updated and we'll be all set!" my insurance agent informed me. Consider it done.
"Mommm!!" Pablo called. "Mom!". "Are you talking to me?" I finally answered. "Mommm!" he answered, staring me straight in the face.
"Here you go, Gilbert. Brand new little man. Don't cut him to pieces" I said, handing the white haired and faced child a new cut out. I strolled by a little while later. The legs were gone.
The boxes are still there. I unpacked enough to get by everyday and suddenly don't want to open those other boxes. I am sure there are precious things in there. I just don't know what they are.
"Does anyone have a hair tie?" Joe asked, his eyes trained on the black one around my wrist. "Um, like this one?" I asked, handing it to him. "Yeah..." he answered, tying his little fro back. Four hours later, he strolled into the classroom while I was with another group, hair tie in hand. "Thanks!" he said and left.
"Um, is it normal for teachers to have eleven, thirty minute classes back to back in one day?" I asked, after getting my first bathroom break in ten hours. "Oh. Sorry about that. We were really worried about the other teachers getting common planning time..." And so you used Spanish as a dumping ground. Forty kids lined up in the doorway, Kindergarten, fifth grade, a couple second grades, fourth grade..."We just all need to come up with ideas", "I have some....", "No, I don't like those. Can we meet in two weeks to figure something out?". Sure, anytime you're ready. "How do I transfer my sick days to your system?" I asked. "Oh. We don't do that. You're starting from zero again". "What happens if I, um, suffer a terrible accident?" "Don't worry, the sick days will add up!". Hope that happens, um, before the accident. "My check seems awfully small, how did my $8000 annual raise end up being $168 a month?" "We pay both TRS and Social Security!". "Um, is that optional?" "No. It's a rule. Don't worry, you'll get it back!" Yeah, when I'm sixty-five. Or eight. Or seventy. Or when I quit and cash that TRS bitch out again. "We also pay a lot more for health insurance!" Yeah, I noticed. "Can I start my insurance after my old insurance runs out?" "No, we can't do that. Don't worry, you have double!". Yeah, and double bills. And a kidney infection because I can't get out of the classroom to take a piss.
"Let's roller skate over here, you can hear the elephants" my niece whispered as we rolled around the parking lot by the zoo. You can hear the elephants over there. She knows everything. Maybe not everything, but the good things.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
"Hola" one of the kids greeted me. "By the way, it hace frío in here".
"Gilbert," I said to the icy blond first grader with white hair, white skin, blue eyes, a big bow and a boy's name, "where's your little man we cut out? Did you hand him in?".
"No. I cut him into little pieces" she responded, staring at me until I looked away.
"Mucho gusto" I said, shaking another little hand and looking away. Until I felt the tongue on my thumb.
"Hi Spanish teacher!" little Jay from Kindergarten greeted, after washing his paper man in the sink.
I smiled back and waved at the little boy with the small, alien mouth. The corners of his mouth turned upward in a little toothless smile.
"Cómo estás?" I asked the dark, adult looking Bangladeshi first grader. "Biennnnnn.." he answered, unsmiling, in a deep monster voice. And then he rolled across the rug.
Herbert does everything right. He's a stoic little dude. Someone prepared him for Kindergarten. He watches me gravely with eyes wide open and jumps to do everything I say. He was crying uncontrollably on the third day of school. "What happened? What happened?" I asked him and then the other kids. "He cut the head off his man...." they answered.
I made the mistake of laughing at the booty shaking, knee wiggling blond boy. Suddenly, five booty shaking, knee wiggling kids rose out of nowhere. "No! No! Siéntate!" I cried, attempting to regain control. And then they grabbed me, swarmed me and I too was on the ground...."Keep our bodies to ourselves, our bodies to ourselves...."
"Do you know why you're in Time Out?" I asked the seventies looking kid with blunt cut bangs. He hissed in response. "You can come out of Time Out when we are ready to use big boy voices. We're not in pre-K anymore". He hissed and growled louder. I continued my "class". The hisses and growls grew louder. And then the scratching on the bulletin board...the tearing. "Please stand by the door" I instructed. I heard my Tijuana map being ripped from the wall and animal-like hisses.
"His psychiatrist says he becomes a dragon when he feels nervous. He says he is fluent in English and Dragon and can't speak Spanish as well and it makes him nervous" another teacher informed me after the child was removed from my room. "He didn't stop hissing at us for an hour!". "I understand," I answered,"but I personally am traumatized".
"You can hold this" Ali told me, thrusting his book bag at me. "You can help me keep track of my number". Every time a new dismissal number would be called, Ali would wag is finger. No, not his number. During the first week of Kindergarten, he had memorized it.
I will break their spirits. Unfortunately, I just know it.
Saturday, August 14, 2010
"I don't want to gooooo!!!!" a hysterical child cried from the hallway. Parents and children were milling everywhere. It was the first day of school. I felt for him. I didn't want to go either. I hate the first day of school. Screw it, maybe we could leave together. Get a coffee, hang out in the park a little bit.
"This is what SST monitoring should look like" the special ed coordinator instructed us, while distributing a handout that charted an entire day down to the minute. The codes at the bottom indicated symbols for Screaming, Inflicting Harm to Self and Inflicting Harm to Others. 8:01-Screaming. 8:03-Harm to Self. 8:04-Screaming. 8:07-Harm to Others. And so on, and so on, and so on. Nothing was marked for about twenty minutes around noon. Peace? No, she was at lunch. "You won't have kids like this here, I was at another school when I monitored this child". I have never stood in line to work with tough kids. I don't need the bad ass badge of honor or the mental stress. But, I know they still exist and if they're not at my school, where were they...
"This went on for about three months" the coordinator informed us. Three months? Three months of that hellish chaos? Three months of hurting herself, screaming and attacking other kids? "Her parents changed her medication and didn't tell us. They got her on some bad stuff. She suffered a psychotic break". I wanted to leave. I just wanted to leave. I can't think about an elementary school kid having a psychotic break. I can't think of those months of hell and imagine what was happening inside the cage of that seven year old's brain.
"So where did you live in Mexico?" the friendly parent asked me. "Tijuana", I answered cheerfully. "TIJUANA?" she said and turned to her child. "Tijuana is VERY violent and dangerous city in Mexico. VERY DANGEROUS".
"Karen Handel supports tax payer funded insurance for gay couples and a program that promotes homosexuality for kids under thirteen!!" the attack ad screamed from my television. Wow, maybe I'll vote for her, I thought. Until I saw her ad, which featured a smiling endorsement from Sarah Palin. Where in God's name am I?
"Si te vienen a contar cositas malas de meeeeee!!!!" I screamed with my radio as I wheeled past the mega marts and into a small Mexican grocery for smokes. "Venden tobacco?" I asked. "Solamente Newports". Eh, no. "Tenemos tacos de asada...." You are shitting me! I walked out with two, a Mexican Coke and a paleta de arroz. Oh, Mexico. I am so glad you are in my neighborhood.
"Hola" the kids repeated back to me on the second day of Spanish for kindergarten. "Me llamo Maestra Hilary" I said, reviewing the exact same thing we had done twenty-four hours earlier. "Hey...I know you..." a little boy said with a smile as he rolled on the rug.
As I went to shake hands, he grasped on to mine and held it, without letting go.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
"Wow. Your eyes are really red" the five year old with the old man's face stated, staring at me quizically. "I know honey. Siéntate." I answered, as I noticed a devilish little blond haired boy rising up, wiggling his knees and shaking his booty.
Re-entry is almost more difficult than leaving your home. Instead of arriving to a new, exciting place, your returning to the place you came from...sometimes to the same old thing. There is a flurry of activity and dinners and people that are happy to see you and then things settle back to normal. But you aren't quite normal yet.
After returning from Asia with my mind blown, I remember being surprised when people would ask "How was your trip?" and only expected a one sentence answer.
Your closet seems endless as you are no longer living out of a suitcase. I reminded myself to drink tap water and not throw toilet paper in the trashcan. Everything is just so comfortable. Slowly, the strange shampoo and toothpaste that you bought in some other place runs out, to be replaced by an American product. Then you realize your trip is really over.
We ate our last meal in Mexico in Tecate on July 27th. As I sat at Los Amigos watching Mexico go by, I knew I was going to miss it. I was jealous of the people that live in border areas and can dip in and out of Mexico at will. After making one last visit to the Secondary Inspection Area to have my car thoroughly thumped and checked for drugs, we crossed into California. I mentally begged the pinche Border Patrol agent to use the drug dogs instead of opening the doors of my car, so that all of my possessions wouldn't spill out into the parking lot.
I crossed through the police state the day after. I wanted to stay, really wanted to stay. I felt that it was my civic duty to be present the day that SB1070 went into law. But I had an appointment on Friday in Atlanta. My new job, at an ELEMENTARY school, wanted me to sign insurance papers. So I raced toward Atlanta. The wheels fell off of my luggage in Sinaloa and the wheels of my car began to fall off in Arizona. I lost another in the black hole of Texas and found myself hunting through Abilene for a tire that would fit my car the day before my big appointment in Atlanta. Late in the day, I entered Mississippi, Green, humid, hot South. It was practically ripe. I knew I wasn't in the borderlands anymore.
After a fifteen hour drive, I made it to Atlanta the evening of the 29th. I woke up Friday at my mother's house, confused about where I was. And I checked my email. "It's okay if you just come by on Monday for pre-planning" my new principal informed me. I was willing to try elementary school, though I firmly consider myself a high school teacher, mainly because this school seemed different, experimental. As I scanned the email, I found myself thinking that they are all the same and cursed myself for taking the whole thing so seriously.
I drove through town. People were honking and screaming at each other in traffic. "Take it easy," I thought "it's not like you pendejos don't have everything the world has to offer".
I found an apartment by Sunday that is a three minute walk from the school. Maybe everything isn't exactly the same. New school, new neighborhood, weird new reality. And then I reported for pre-planning the following Monday. I don't like getting up early.
"This room looks like a loft!" Alec exclaimed when he visited, staring at the twenty-foot ceilings, wall of windows and exposed brick walls. I had spent the day digging through the mountain of educational materials in the classroom. I added my carefully saved construction paper to a foot high stack and put my one sombrero on the class set that already existed. Did I think about the TJ kids? Did I notice that the supplies in that room were enough to fuel an entire Mexican school? Did I miss my gray, cell-block classroom without overhead lights?
"Where can I find your curriculum?" I asked my new bosses. "Well..." the answered and started giving me activity ideas. "No, no.." I said as gently as possible. "I know how to teach. I just wanted to know, um, what you wanted me to teach...". It's a little tricky to write a K-5 curriculum a few days before school starts. But I did it. Still not sure what curriculum boards do. I had a skirmish about being paid for my years of experience and held up the signing of my contract until it was accurate. I like starting out on the right foot.
"If we report a student to DFCS, do we find out the action they are taking if the child is still in our classroom?" a teacher asked during our child abuse in-service. No, I thought, thinking of April. They don't tell you anything. You pass the semester, looking for chunks of missing hair and scabs on her scalp, like the last time. And the semesters afterward, you see each other in the hall and awkwardly nod and look away. "I'll tell you if I hear anything...." our facilitator answered.
I wrote curriculum, made some lesson plans and tried to organize the classroom. I trashed a disturbing eraser with "enojado" written on it. And I dragged boxes in the evening and found myself shaking from the ample air conditioning in all of these crazy new buildings.
And then I woke up, at 6AM, 3AM Tijuana time, climbed over some boxes and got ready for the first day of school, two weeks after driving out of TJ.