Friday, October 25, 2013

Kaup Jai Lai Lai

"Unfortunately, we will not be able to visit the King Center or the Carter Presidential Library while we are in Atlanta, due to the government shutdown".

Great.  The Fulbright program that has been the main reason why I continue to teach is no longer funded, after sixty-five years, due to the sequester and general assholery in D.C.   When I say not funded, I mean it's over, done, no longer.  Now the fucking federal government can't even keep its ass open so one of the last workshops of my beloved program can host a pinche cultural visit in Atlanta.

"So, where you from? What you do here in Atlanta?"
"Oh, I live here.  I'm just working a conference in the hotel".
"Okay, I get you your beer".
I don't like speaking with bartenders.

"We are sorry to announce that Richard Zolinski, U.S. State Department representative of Cultural Affairs, was unable to travel to Atlanta, due to the federal government shutdown.  He wanted you to know that he is here in spirit".

"What kind of conference?".
"It is an international conference, teachers that are from a lot of places, teaching here this year in the U.S.".
"My daughter teacher.  University.  But only part time work".
"That happened to me last year.  Only part-time work.  Were you...born in the U.S.?"  I asked carefully, knowing the answer was no.
"Nooo!"
"Wait, wait, let me guess.  Sorry, let me do this.  Cambodia?"
"Close!"
"Alright, Laos?"
"Wrong!"
"Vietnam?"
"Only one lefffft!"
"Holy shit, Thailand!"
"Yes!"
"Okay, which part?"
"I from a small town, called Bangkok".
We were both laughing.  Kind of screaming laughing.
"Tell me where you been..."
Oh...where I've been...so many places that I have been...so lucky that I have been...

I remember my first workshop as a grantee in the program. I had received notification a couple of weeks before and after all the waiting, things went into high speed.  Direct flight to D.C. into Reagan, at a convenient time.  Posh ass hotel.  Cash handed to me on arrival to be sure I didn't pay for my cab from the airport out of my own pocket.  As I sat in our first meeting, dressed up and nervous, Richard greeted us:
"On behalf of the U.S. Department of State, we would like to thank you for your time, for taking time out of your schedules to be here and participate in this program".
That is just not something us bottom class of public school teachers hear very often.  Or never. It felt important, like we really were valued.
"Wow, we're not in DeKalb County anymore" my co-worker from Atlanta whispered to me. 

"So, we ate everything we could see.  People told us Bangkok was a shit-hole but we loved it...so much to do, so much beauty..."
"Yeah but that plane!  Nineteen hours in plane!".
"Oh my God, no shit.  I made the mistake of watching the monitor, you know, where the little plane is sitting over the ocean".
"You watch that thing!  It horrible!  I drink beer and sleep!"

"Wait, what do you mean?" I asked one of the other alum that was working the conference. 
"She doesn't have a job anymore, it's over".
"Yeah, I know it's over, but I thought...I thought she would stay on and work with the other Fulbright programs.....what is happening?".
I can't make up any more fake names for her.  She made my Fulbright exchange happen, first from the Commission in Mexico and later supported me from orgs in D.C. that administered the grant.  She has been the only non-family person that has stuck with me through thick and thin, the only person that has told me for the last five years that I have been doing something good, more than good, honorable, in the classroom.

"Her job is done in two weeks".


Friday, October 11, 2013

There are places you will go

"¿Qué hiciste el fin de semana pasado?" I asked the fifth graders.
"Well," Jonathon answered, "One of my chickens was cremated.  Do you know what creamated means?"  he asked the class.
"It was injected with something and slowly died as the air went out of his lungs" he added, flatly.
I didn't correct his mistake.
"I'm sorry, Jonathon.  Something like that happened to one of my sister's chickens recently.  It was very sad".
He stared at me with the same dead look.

"So, how is Jarod doing in Spanish?  What are his weaknesses?"
"Honestly, I couldn't tell you.  He comes to class late everyday, and never even has paper or pencil.  He hasn't turned anything in in three months.  Can't even get him to copy off of the board.  Your guess is as good as mine".
"What's wrong, Jarod?" his caseworker asked.
"Well she, she goes too fast" Jarod answered, voice raised, sounding innocent.
"Well.  If she go too fast, we will have to see about a schedule change".
I teach the bottom feeders.  The mouth breathers.  I repeat everything, day after day, over and over.  I sit and read out loud to them.  Something I don't even have to do for my fifth graders.  But white lady Spanish teacher go too fast.  Whatever.  Change him if you want.  Get him out out of my class.  It is one less headache to deal with.  But it pissed me off.

"And then!  I just sent mind-controlled sonic missiles to your house!  It is gone, burned!"  Jonathon's eyes were rolling back in his head.  He was almost delirious.  We were laughing hysterically.  He was hugging me while he talked about my demise.
"Jonathon, please though.  What happened to my pets, Lola and my birds?"
"They escaped!"
"Thank God"
"But then animal control got them!"
The kids were screaming.  Jonathon was screaming, but crazily articulate and inventive and scary all at the same time.  Ms. T's class has never gotten over what happened and she hasn't either.  I walk in to teach Spanish and her face has a horrible, defeated look on it.  The kids are going crazy.  She leaves and doesn't even try to get them ready for me.
Jonthanon was stabbing and swinging a pencil around wildly while he told his tales.  He almost hit me in the eye, but I have been wearing my glasses since the day I couldn't afford to go to the eye doctor for a new prescription or buy contacts.
Then, he almost stabbed me in the arm.

"You're are making excuses, Jarod.  It's always everyone else's fault.  The problem is you".
The football coach's eyes locked with mine.  I was so glad someone was going to say it.
"Hey, do you know his reading level?" he continued, asking the head of the Special Education department.
"Three and a half, four" she responded.
"Grade?!"
"Yes".
"Why is it so low!"  Jarod exclaimed, visibly upset.  I don't like this little fucker, but I was surprised they outted his reading level in front of everyone.
"Those are your scores, Jarod".
"I can read!" he responded, frustrated, lowering his head.
"He also has a low verbal IQ" the department chair added.
He didn't even get that.
"I want a consequence" Jarod said slowly.
"If I don't go to tutorial, I need a consequence".
"How about we go positive!  What would you like if you DO go to tutorial?".
"That doesn't work for me.  I need to get into trouble".
"Okay, then a silent lunch.  I know you hate that.  But let's go positive!  You drink Gatorade.  I'll get you a Gatorade".
"Okay, I guess. Gatorade".
"I have to go.  I have a class tonight that starts in fifteen minutes".
My Specialist class.  My Ridiculous class.  Half of the other teachers had already left.
"Jarod, you know where I am.  We can work through this".
And then I left.

"Animal Control!!"
"But they escaped!  Now they are sitting in front of the charred remains of your former house!"
"Thank you for that, Jonathon.  Thanks for saving my babies".

"Here's your keys. You are over your time allotment here".



Saturday, October 5, 2013

On a planet far, far away....

"Something happened!"  one of the fifth graders said the minute I walked into their room to do their Spanish class.  The class was buzzing. 

"Why I act the way I do?  'Cuz I got a teacher like you.  Put that in your head.  Fuck you".  Ah, always a pleasure working with certain students.  This kid's parents abandoned him.  Hmmm.  I wonder why.  I would definitely leave him out on the rocks to die if I hatched such a piece of shit. 

"Who are you?"  I asked the two men in safety vests standing next to my house. 
"We survey land" one of them answered with a Russian accent. 
Funny, then why were they on my land?

"Alright, one at a time" I instructed.  I knew they were not going to let it go until I let them explain what happened.
"Ms. T flipped out yesterday!  Something was wrong.  It's medical.   We tried to help". 
"Wait, wait, wait, one at a time".  I know Ms. T relatively well.  I know she has medical issues. 
"She wouldn't let us leave school.   When we tried to get her her medicine, she started yelling at us.  At first we thought it was a joke.  Then we thought it was a test.  And then, we got scared....".
I felt a sick feeling in my stomach.

"Who do you work for, the City or the architect?" I asked.
"We don't know.  What are they trying to put on this land?"
"A house"  I answered.
"Where?  There is no room.  This is horrible job.  We been out here three days.  We want to go home".
"Let me know if I can help" I answered, assuming it was better to be helpful than contentious. 

"I have to say that I don't appreciate that the two of you were laughing during the Trey situation.  It eggs him on.  Imagine if you had someone insulting you in front of a room full of people and others sat and laughed".
I had kicked the kid out of the classroom after an extended yelling exchange and was pretty fucking pissed at some of the peanut gallery.  I was surprised when it looked like they were thinking. 
"Really...I was laughing because he is just so... stupid...." one of the responded slowly. 
"Can we please have the fun day you promised, before all that happened?"  the other asked.  He is a large, African-American kid on an elementary reading level. 
"The rest of us are having the fun day, because everyone else in the class didn't egg him on.  You did.  You are getting poop work.  The most boring thing I can find in my bag". 
My bag.  I float between two schools, nine classrooms and a separate office that has a nothing but a table in it that I share with another teacher.  My laptop, speakers, activities, Expo markers and everything else I might need to teach all over the world is in that bag.  It gets heavy sometimes. 

"She kept saying the same words over and over again, but wasn't finishing the sentences.  Then she started doing weird body moves, like karate".
"It was almost three o'clock.  No one knew we were still in here".
"We started crying".
"Man, I was bawling" another boy added.
"Mr. Frank and Ms. Jones saved us".
"The buses were leaving.  I was running between them, trying to get them to stop but they left..."
"I sprinted home.  If I am not home by three my mom gets scared.  I won't be allowed to walk to school anymore".
"They tried to call my parents and warn them.  But they called the wrong number.  They called my PARENTS.  I live with my grandparents.  When I finally got out to the car, they had already gone home and gotten the shotgun.  It was in the backseat".
"Sandy Hook" one of the kids added.  Yes, Sandy Hook.  And the school that had a shooting two miles away a couple of weeks ago.  I felt like crying. 

I had finished the end of my movie when I saw the Russians outside again.  It was late, I thought they had left.  I went outside.  They had flashlights and surveying equipment and were shooting beams across the weeded area where a house will be. 
"Would you like a beer?"  I asked them.
They smiled and declined. 
"We have it!"  they announced.
I watched some more television.  Lola jumped up about an hour later and ran toward the front porch.  I followed her and saw the Russians on my front porch, measuring my doorway.  The jumped off and ran when they saw Lola.  Orange tape and rebar marked the other side of our lot that has nothing to do with the new construction. 
What the fuck?

"I'll let you play on one condition.  DON'T be buttholes".
The whole class started laughing, including the two offenders.
"Yeah, don't be buttholes!" another kid shrieked at them.
I started the Puerto Rican rap music and passed out the Bingo cards.  Kids started shaking it.  The elementary reader did a funny head tilting dance.  Others did a pencil drum to the beat. 
 
The vibe was right again and all was good in the world.