Thursday, November 17, 2016
Miles to Go Before I Sleep
My school let us sign up for various Professional Learning opportunities. I had originally wanted to do one on Autism, but it was full so I signed up for one about teaching children living in poverty. I hoped to pick up some strategies that would help me at school but mainly, something to help me be a better tutor at the Housing Authority.
I drove south down the early morning highway. My fellow participants from school had asked me to car pool with them, but I declined because they live close to our school and I would save a lot of time if I drove by myself from my house without meeting them. The workshop was in a city about an hour south of Atlanta. I felt pretty relaxed, drinking coffee and listening to NPR, expecting a tranquil day of being taught instead of actually teaching.
When I arrived, my three co-workers sat at a table, waving me over to the remaining seat. I walked over and saw that the handouts weren't at the seat and went back to pick them up from a stack by the door. I was apprehended by the teacher.
"Aren't there any handouts at your seat?" she inquired, an edge to her voice.
"Where are you sitting?"
I pointed across the room.
"You should sit at another table."
"Can't I sit with my co-workers?"
"Well, you can sit there if you want to but don't get too comfortable, because YOU ARE GOING TO HAVE TO MOVE." she said loudly.
I sat alone at a table. Our assistant principal strolled in and sat at the remaining seat at my previous table, oblivious to the teacher. She glanced at him and glanced away, unwilling to challenge his male-ness or administrative dress.
I felt stupid, secluded at my table. I worried my administrator thought that I had chosen that seat on my own, out of some sort of argument or weirdness. I could hear my co-workers talking and laughing with him. They were all grade level teachers. I am a "Specials" teacher. We are often treated as secondary, which I have gotten used to as part of the job. By no fault of theirs, I felt increasingly isolated, alone at an empty table, while the rest of my co-workers sat together. More people trickled in and a teacher from Monroe County finally sat at my table. We opened our laptops to view the materials and the coordinator walked by, guiltily complimenting me in a high pitched voice on a picture of Lola on my desktop. I smiled weakly.
"Let's go outside for our first activity!" she announced merrily.
I wanted to go outside. The town itself was attractive, one of those small Georgia towns with a Main Street and town square and antebellum houses with mysterious "garages" in the back of them. Red and gold leaves laid on the ground.
"Line up on the white line!" she instructed.
"Take one step forward if you grew up in a two parent household!"
The majority stepped forward. I glanced furtively at the African-Americans, imploring them with my mind not to leave me behind. They stepped forward, too.
"Step forward if your parents went to college."
"Step forward if your grandparents went to college."
"Step forward if you usually went on vacations out of state or out of country."
"Did you have after school activities, music lessons, go to camps?"
A massive gap was forming between me and the rest of the group. My co-workers were nowhere to be seen. I willed her to say something that would make me step forward, but I knew I would never catch up. She hadn't even mentioned welfare checks, food stamps or free and reduced lunch.
"Step forward if fresh fruit and vegetables were served with most of your meals."
By the end, the majority of the group stood near the front and the rest spread through the middle. After a large gap, an African-American man and I stood near the back of the parking lot, barely off of the white line. He was far on the other side and wouldn't look at me.
"Look around!" the instructor called.
I could only look forward, squinting into the sun while the rest looked back at us. One of my co-workers noticed me and a look of shock and pity crossed his face.
I immediately stared down, not raising my eyes from the pavement, knowing they were filling with tears.
I inadvertently shuffled my feet and dug my hands further into my pockets, while the rest of the group stared at us in the bright morning sun.