Samantha got locked in her classroom with thirty-three students. Since most of the janitors have been laid off as a cost-saving device, it was hard to find anyone who knew what to do. Aside from that thirty-four folks instantly needing to pee, Samantha’s problem was that her class was like an annual plenary session of the Future Crips Of America Association. The administration’s solution was to slide grammar worksheets under the door.
Art, the art teacher, is taking a day off work in order to get some work done. I have two feelings about that. One, that I actually have a job where ‘taking a day off work in order to get some work done’ makes sense. Two, that we’re into some strange areas here.
We’re doing the educational equivalent of working two jobs with one worker. We each teach seven classes. We’re working double-periods, the idea being to stuff twice as much material in one class. We get one break every other day. On days we don’t get a break, we’re expected to go from, say, 8AM until 1PM without a break even to pee. We get 25 minutes for lunch. I once worked in a warehouse, and had a 15 minute break in the morning, 30 minutes for lunch, and a 15 minute break in the afternoon.
In order to save money, the district has gotten rid of almost all teaching assistants and substitute teachers. So, when someone is sick, teachers have to give up what few free periods we have. Of the three periods I have free in a week, I gave up two last week in order to sub, and two the week before. Leaving me two breaks in two weeks. Someone once said that, if you’re a good teacher, you go home tired every night. I must be the best teacher in the world.
And there’s always at least one class to sub for. Since we had two music teachers, the district decided to fire one. So they fired the instrumentalist, leaving only the voice teacher. Instruments and their upkeep are expensive. And everyone has a voice. Again, cost cutting. But nobody rearranged the schedule for the kids. The kids don’t cost anything, which makes them an afterthought. So the band kids meet every day, and everyday there’s no teacher, so everyday those kids need a sub. And there’s never a sub. So one of us has to watch those poor children. I can cry when I see these poor babies. What does it say to a kid, that this child is unworthy of a teacher?
So Art, the art teacher, is taking a day off work in order to get some work done. He needs time to grade some projects, time he can’t find at work. He just doesn’t have enough time at work in order to do all his work. He’s left a lesson that can easily be supervised by a non-art substitute teacher — but a real sub, which he insisted on getting.
And that’s how we juggle it. Leave a good lesson that can be done by someone not certified in the subject. We make sure there’s a real sub, and not just one of our overworked colleagues, and take a day off work in order to get some work done.
The problem is — we’re getting into some strange areas. Taking off work in order to do work? And we all do it. That and we work weekends.
We are an oppressed profession. The other art teacher, Guadalupe, is ready to quit. She’s young and, like all of us, came here to work with the poor and the immigrant and the marginalized. She expected to work with poverty, mental illness, even violence. But nobody is prepared for a brow-beating administration, the incompetence of uplifting liberals and condescending conservatives, the millions spent on reforms that only make our classrooms worse, the distance we feel from those who write about us but don’t know us, or the cost-cutting that leaves people locked in a room for lack of a guy who can undo a hinge. We can attract idealists. We just can’t hold them.
So I say to Guadalupe what has become my mantra. “If not you, then who?” Everyone has some grand reform for the public schools, but nobody wants to come and work in them. And stay. In the end, to these kids, to my colleagues, that’s all that matters.
You want reform? You want cost-cutting? Give me a xerox machine that works and a text book. Then leave me alone. That is all I need. Why? Because I am a one man educational reform. That and unlock Samantha and those kids.