Saturday, September 25, 2010

Al claro de luna reposa...

As I hung over the trashcan in my classroom vomiting, I heard the door swing open. "Hi Maestra!" a chipper parent called out "We bought you this book!"

"Today is day deux" one of my bosses announced to the kids. "Dos!" some of the kids howled back. "No, I took French" she retorted "I don't speak a word of Spanish. Well, except taco".

"My parents walked through the desert to get here!" I heard Ignacio state defiantly to another student. "¿Es verdad, Ignacio?", "Sí" he responded, "No sabía, Ignacio, no sabía yo. ¿Cómo llegaste tú, en carro?" "No," he responded "en avión. Nací en México".

I thought it was hard to have undocumented high school students in my classes. To watch them try to get through school, knowing it really wasn't worth anything. They could stack up as much education as they wanted, but not having at least a green card would always lead to working a variety of undesirable jobs reserved for illegal immigrants, in the country where they had spent the majority of their lives. I found it even more difficult to look into the hopeful eyes of the smiling, moon faced eight year old.

I put on my jogging clothes and waved at the old man the kids throw rocks at for being poor and black and headed to the park.

"DON'T SAY THAT YOU LOVE ME!" Fleetwood Mac howled in my ears as I ran. My mind's eye pictured the beige hills and scrubby vegetation of Arivaca that I saw while I drove the last section of paved road last summer, the part before everything turns to gravel and dirt. I pictured little moon faced boys. My stomach felt angry. I remembered Carla crying in my Spanish III class. "I remember those flat trees" she told me "the way that place looks. My back has scars from the barbed wire..."

"The kids have been a little, um, crazy" I told one of the lead teachers as she came to pick up her class. "Oh God, I know, I know. It's a full moon..."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lord of the Flies

I knew August was going to be hard. Driving from Tijuana to Atlanta, finding a house, starting work immediately and quickly trying to figure out how to teach kids that can't even read...I didn't count on September being the same way.

"You got screwed," one of my co-workers told me. "we've never had a Spanish teacher teaching as many hours a week as you are".

I have started playing Norteño and Banda nearly everyday in the classroom. It puts me in a good mood. At the sound of the horns and accordions, the kids eyes widened and they started clapping and bouncing. Some of the ADHD kids literally started screaming. I'm glad they like it. I like it too.

I am not good at being a sucker. It burns in my stomach and sharpens my tongue. I wanted this to work, I really did. Even if I ever receive an equitable situation at this school, I don't think the bad taste in my mouth will go away.

It's okay though. I can work a brutal teaching schedule. The lessons will just become sub-standard and I will start getting not so friendly during four hours of non-stop teaching without even a bathroom break or two seconds of transition time. And during the hours that follow the way too short break. I know your kid is special to you, but I may not remember his name, because nearly one hundred and fifty kids have filtered through the classroom in under four hours and another eighty kids followed them a short period later. I hope it's cool. I'm cool with it. I'm a team player. I believe in this school and I really want to make things work.

The kids are freakishly physical. The don't ask, they grab. If someone's in their way, they shove them out of the way. If they want your chair, the sit in it and push you out of it. If they're angry, the hit. And slap. And scream. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Laurie and Jonathon, two five year olds, with their shoulders back, chest to chest, chins jutting out. And then fists started flying.

They throw rocks at old people from the playground and call black men "hobos". They bully kids for being poor. They threaten the few Latino students and even have insults specifically for Mexicans. They use racial slurs.

It freaks me out.

Ignacio is a sweet, moon faced boy whose smiling shy face greets me three times a week in Spanish class. I don't want to know who threatened him. I think it's better that way. I know xenophobic kids learn from their parents, but it doesn't stop the dark feelings I have towards them.

You're lucky to have a job! I'm highly educated and wildly qualified. I am not lucky to have a job. I am supposed to have one. The supermarket doesn't take beads and sticks in exchange for food. Employers love this job market. It's giving them the "take it or leave it" attitude. Long days. No breaks. Low pay. You're lucky to have a job!

Actually, I'm not.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

One Month















I live in a beautiful, green, very Southern neighborhood. Bungalows and Victorians from the turn of the century, err, not the recent one, the one before that, line the streets. I am constantly struck by how pretty and green and humid the neighborhood is, though I lived here for years and only took a one year hiatus.

My house is pretty swank too. For the first time in my adult life, I have central air conditioning. My school is even gorgeous. Parts of town I haven't been to in a while have suddenly developed in to enclaves of slick hipness. When did everything get so nice around here?

My wallet is not full of San Diego trolley passes anymore. Credit cards that I never carried in Tijuana have taken their place, along with miscellaneous video store cards and my driver's license.

"When I got out of prison, everything just felt surreal..." Mike Tyson commented in the documentary that bore his name. Strangely, I related to that.

My overloaded teaching schedule is quickly killing me. I don't think the one meal, two hundred student a day plan works for me. I walk home with my stomach burning and churning and sit behind my house and stare into space for at least fifteen minutes before I am ready to speak to anyone.

"I'm having some discipline issues with Rob and Warner," I mentioned to their lead teacher "any background information that might help?". "Well. I am very firm with my class. Very firm. They are not allowed to misbehave". Um, thanks. I personally just let my class go ass wild.

I came home from a year in Madrid five years ago. The gas stations didn't have gas and desperate people on rooftops flooded the television. "I don't have any ID!" the exasperated man yelled at the DMV agent when I went to replace my driver's license. "I'm from New Orleans!". When I started teaching a year later, strange area codes kept popping up when I tried to call students' parents because they were chronically absent, failing or had discipline issues. I finally looked up the area code: New Orleans. I wonder where those kids from four years ago are now and if they ever found a real home.

When I walk into the teacher's workroom, people don't even look up from their lunches. Not even a nod, let alone a "good afternoon". I find it rude. In Mexico, this would be heresy and would definitely haunt you with future dealings with teachers and administrators. Am I being too sensitive?

Another full moon passed a couple of nights ago. Two months ago, I was heading to the desert in Arizona. A month ago, I was beginning my drive home.

The borderlands have never felt so far away.