Friday, May 18, 2007

A Thief Among Us

When you work in a school, it makes sense to emotionally prepare yourself for the fact that some of your possessions are going to be stolen. It would be foolish to think otherwise, which I learned in my 2nd or 3rd year of teaching when a boy named Bryant or Bryan or Byron stole my wallet out of my purse, which was in a cabinet, which was behind my desk, which was in the corner. How did he get there? Why wasn't I aware of his location at all times? First of all, I was new at this and easily distracted. Secondly, I popped my head into the class next door to ask what had just been announced on the loudspeaker, since my class was so lively (euphemism) that I couldn't hear a thing. Oops. Anyway, the whole class saw it; many of them tattled, but without hard evidence a school cannot accuse a sweet, innocent child of such a crime. So there went my wallet. Big whoop, really. I've had books stolen, which is semi-ok with me because it may mean that someone desperately wants to read. Other things disappear all the time. Markers, trinkets, various office supplies. Lots of the time it's probably not even stolen, but misplaced by this absent-minded educator who can't keep track of her keys. But I never expected what happened today. Today, a teacher robbed me.

Our principal is the defendant in a lawsuit (yes, school-related) that has gone to court. She has been away for two weeks. Things at school have been running very smoothly, I must say. Today was the last day of state testing, and to celebrate one of the assistant principals organized a potluck lunch for the entire faculty after the kids had gone home (early). The Multi Purpose Room buzzed with camaraderie and surprise at how such a simple occasion could make teachers feel appreciated and worthy of attention. Several long tables were lined with offerings like tamales, roast chicken, cupcakes, pozole, green salads, and my silly attempt at something light(ish) and crisp - a garbanzo and celery salad with cilantro and rice vinegar. It's to die for, I assure you, but it turns out that it's not exactly South LA haute cuisine. Nevertheless, almost everyone tried it, which pleased me.

After the feast ended, I returned to the MPR (after having run up to the library for some reason or another) to find my garbanzos and their twelve-dollar, brand new tupperware container with the red lid....gone. Yup. I checked with everyone who had anything to do with the organization of this event. The assistant principal, the custodian, the office manager. Baffled, all. It's not that I am emotionally or spiritually attached to my tupperware, but I was shocked that a teacher would walk off with something that silly, that small. We may not make a competitive wage, but we can afford plastic ware! Did this teacher think, "Ooh, this garbanzo salad is delicious. I'll eat it all weekend long and then bring the tupperware back and just leave it somewhere in the main office." Did this teacher think, "Well, if no one wants this, I might as well keep it from going to waste." Or, was it my current nemesis? Could he have deliberately made off with the chickpeas to hit me where it hurts, thinking, "Heh, heh, heh. So much for Mizz Murphy and her big, garbanzo-stuffed mouth!"

It is difficult to say what happened. A shocking way to end the week, a perfect way to begin the weekend; I will have stories to tell at dinner tomorrow with my friends. If I didn't have this job, would I have anything to say?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Testing Schmesting

This week students all over Los Angeles are hunkering down for the state tests that have plagued us all for eons. Well, maybe not eons. And maybe not plagued. I, for one, loved taking these tests as a child. Knowing the right answer pleased me, and puzzling out the more difficult ones pleased me more. When I took standardized tests, I felt that I was proving something, showing what I was made of, bringing it all together at the end of the year.
I am afraid that this is not the case for the most of ths students I teach today. For many students in urban school districts, the tests are nearly punishment. "Do well or our school will get less money." "Try hard or next year you might not have art class!" These are the messages sent to sweet sixth, seventh, and eight grade souls who are struggling to keep their heads above water on a normal school day, let alone one packed with such cruel consequences.
As library media teacher I no longer have a class to test, so I was assigned to assist in a 6th-grade classroom. When I asked how many of the students had remembered to prepare for the test by eating breakfast, six kids raised their hands. Six children had eaten breakfast. This is no good. Something else that is not good is the fact that it was six out of thirty-seven! 37 students were crammed into a classroom to take a test that holds the school's fate in its hands. One was sitting at a table that was piled with textbooks, only a small clear space in front of him in which to spread out his testing materials. Another sat at a computer table, shoving the keyboard and mouse to the side to make room. No distractions there! The rest of the kids were sitting at group tables, facing each other. FACING EACH OTHER. Not good. Did I mention that the air-conditioning was not working? It was sweltering inside that room. 37 kids x 98.6 degrees + hooded sweatshirts to cover up ugly uniforms + no breakfast = disasterous results. I believe this is what is called a stacked deck.
This will go on all week. It is torture for all involved. Will the results tell us what these students have learned in a year? Will they tell us that the school has recently added art, drama, anthropology, digital imaging, and computer classes after a seven-year drought of no elective classes? Will they tell us that the assistant principal plays jazz and world music over speakers at lunchtime? Can the test possibly show that these students are begging to take home one of the library's praying mantises, or that they want to do well so badly they could cry?
As I left the testing room to wander back to my oasis, I saw a hand-drawn sign adorning a science class door that read "We Will Do Are Best On The Test." I nearly wept.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Mum's the Word

I took the bus to work yesterday. It took seven years of driving to work in LA for me to finally see the light. I have always heard the following lie: "There's no public transportation in LA". Hogwash! Poppycock! All one needs to enjoy the conscience-soothing, pocketbook-friendly joys of public transportation in LA is the will to get up a few minutes earlier and access to an online trip planner.
I did spend a loooong time planning my maiden voyage. Unsure of myself, I studied maps and timetables for two solid hours on the day before my trip. I do not know how a person who is willing to hop on a bus in a foreign city without having an understanding of where it might go or how to ask for assistance can be so afraid of a town where she could navigate blindfolded through the streets! But she was.
I ended up catching the 92 to downtown LA, where I hopped off at Spring and 7th. A woman with silver teeth sold tamales from a styrofoam cooler and I felt alive! I hopped onto the 51, which was to take me to the doors of the learning institution in which I work. Mysteriously, two blocks later the driver turned a corner and called out "End of the line!" Was he ill? Did I catch the wrong line? All of the passengers got off of the bus and, with unsurprised expressions on their faces, walked half a block to another bus stop and began to wait, quietly. I followed, of course. I may have remained forever in the dark if it wasn't for the appearance of Mr. Barton, a Santa Clause-esqe special education teacher at my school who happened to be riding the same bus. We had "caught the wrong 51" he explained. Apparantly some of them only go so far. I could have been annoyed, but recognized that I would have thought the event quaint if I had been in Rome, so I continued to enjoy my morning. A few minutes later the right 51 came along and Mr. Barton and I were on our way. He comes in from quite a distance, he explained, leaving home at 4:25 in the morning. An experienced traveller by my side made me feel confident and pleased with myself.
A few miles before we reached the school, a boy got on the bus and sat down across from me, next to Mr. Barton. I recognized this boy as a student from our school. He avoided my gaze, hunched over, and looked at his feet. This is a teenager, I reminded myself; perhaps he would not be pleased to receive an energetic greeting from the school librarian so early and so far from school. Did he know who I was? He must, or how would I know him? DId he know Mr. Barton? Is it rude to say nothing, or is it exactly the right thing to do? I couldn't decide, so I kept mum. I rode this bus all the way to school and said not a word to this boy. Afterwards, I regretted my choice. Teenagers are perpetually embarrassed as it is. One more little unpleasant moment would have amounted to nothing in a day's worth of teenage agony. I should have said hello, should have made that teacher-student connection that is so lacking in our schools, should have shown that I knew his face and cared who he was, should have wished him a good morning on this fine, bus-riding day. The greatest thing about riding the bus is, as I now know, that I will have this chance again. I feel better already. Bus-riding is very therapeutic.