Monday, January 17, 2011

Tomorrow's Hope: Ina Mae Oxendine

Brother Unit Grader Boob failed to show up for his planned fab weekend of gluttony and remembrance.  The boy was detained by concerns over his course load. 

Yes, he's out pimping for students.  One of his sections has only six brainiacs enrolled and risks being cancelled.

In the past, he's accepted virtual teaching jobs at the last minute, but it's far from his favorite form of instruction. 

It does pay, however, a fact that I may soon be compelled to point out.  In that famous, loving, sisterly way of mine.

I no longer go on and on about the virtues of health insurance, disability insurance, and a savings account -- you know, those things that mark you as a financially responsible citizen of the world.  Until such time, of course, as the world gets it right.  But we won't go there, either.  Not this early in the day.

My advice has been the same for at least a decade, probably more.  Quit the teaching of 18-22/4 year olds, and take on the kids in high school.  Experience the relief of clear and binding contracts, maybe a union or two, and a steady paycheck.  Sure, there's a down side.  Parents, paperwork, and lazy, unmotivated students. 

Also, students without parents or reliable guardians, as well as students who are parents.

Oh, and students who are completely grade-driven, blind to the how or why of things, obsessed with conquering the precise whats.  You can practically see their little bellies all awash with acid.  What they need is generally beyond one's capacity to give.

NOTE:  No matter how tempting, don't pair up the lazy, unmotivated student with the grade-driven, obsessed dyspeptic.  Turns out that they don't so much rub off on one another as transmogrify into grotesque acephalous caricatures.  {shiver}

Grader Boob likely won't believe that the work load is a bit heavier for the high school teacher than the college prof. It's a simple function of more bodies that meet with greater frequency. Much depends on the ability to negotiate the frustrations of itty-bitty middle management minds that tend to come in the form of administrators -- mostly vice-principals, oddly enough. Come to think of it, when I taught high school students, the person who alternated between providing me with real relief in quasi-emergencies and showing the most startling examples of anger and violence (of an unacceptable level) were... vice-principals, especially those of long standing, approaching retirement. 

They're worn to a frazzle.

In the interest of full disclosure, I'd have to tell Grader Boob that there is a culture of violence that will surprise him.  For instance, girls are more dangerous than boys, in terms of mean spirited, predetermined nastiness.  Somehow, there's been a gender twist and the more hormonally-driven emotional upsets now belong to the guys.  Neither sex shows much emotional integrity or insight at that age.  (Yes, I will hide behind the old adage that the exceptions prove the rules.)

I recounted some, but not nearly all, of my personal experiences with school violence in a post about substitute teaching -- that being the way I scoped out the school systems in my area.  If you've ever thought that the subs teaching your kids might be incredibly underprepared for the task -- oh my, you don't know the half of it.  It's frightening, who can be paid a hundred bucks to babysit students.  Again, there are some great subs -- usually in the form of experienced teachers who have taken time off and just want to pick up some extra cash. 

Anthony R., a young man in my senior homeroom broke my hip the first year I took on the public school system as a teacher.  The administrators had called in the police to search for drugs and weapons on campus.  The plan for the raid included shutting out all tardy homeroom students.  We were to slam the doors shut, and lock them, at the tardy bell.  Then the police were to descend, en masse, and catch the tardy kids in a sort of no-man's-land.  Someone somewhere figured that tardy kids also constitute a major portion of young ones involved in criminal activity.  I'm just sayin'. 

Sounds like a middle management decision to me.

Anyway, this particular child was the son of one of the math teachers, Mrs. R..  Sadly, his mom was dying of cancer and had chosen, God only knows why, to teach herself to death.  She died a few months after this raid incident.

Anthony was usually late, as he claimed a privileged status as son of a teacher, son of a terminally ill teacher, no less. As an African-American, he loved to play the race card when baiting Very White me, on those occasions when I exerted my vast authority.  Was I forever marking him tardy because he was black?  Was I not choosing him to run paperwork to the office because he was black?  Did I not understand that black culture was involved when he mouthed off, when he cursed, when he stole, when he failed his classes? 

He also did drugs and was a horrible bully.  I had witnessed him slapping his girlfriend and the crowd around his car in the afternoons was, well, strange and suspicious.  When I reported Anthony, I was called to the office to explain my racist behavior. (The school was about 55% African American, 15% Hispanic, 29.9% Caucasian.)

One of the more rabid vice-principals stationed himself at the end of my hall, so I couldn't have offered him the safety of homeroom even if that option appealed to me.  And, it did.  I am not without compassion.  Not entirely.  I had sleepless nights, worrying and wondering about students, praying that I would see them alive the next day.  [Did I neglect to say that my high school teaching days took place in the U.S.?  Far, far from the Tête de Hergé (très décédé, d'ailleurs), of course, since here, there is no violence beyond the self-inflicted flagellation of our Trappist monastery neighbors -- the Most Peculiar Order of the Already Peculiar Cistercians of the Strict Observance.]

But Anthony was a quick little bugger.  He sprang at the door before I had it completely closed.  Or perhaps I paused, hesitating, wanting to clue him in, to give him a hint.  

He was angry, very angry.   He already knew, of course, that there was a flock of cops, a bevy of police authority, suited up and ready to invade.  His mom would have told him...  And, in his mind, I lacked any authority to close that door in his privileged face.  He got angrier.

I could hear the police arrive at the head of my hall, hear the rabid instructions of that vice-principal. 

And I could feel the door knob of my classroom door drive into my left hip.  Again and again.  He was kicking the door.  I was leaning against it, ferociously determined to win this stupid contest.

Yeah, so, anyway... that's how Anthony broke my hip.

The vice-principal collared him, dragged him across the hall, slammed him against the wall.  Lifting him off the floor in the process.  Telling me to stay in my room when I came out to intervene.  Telling me to shut and lock the door.  Telling me with an ugly glare that if I liked my job, I'd forget what I just saw. 

We witnessed a lot throughout the day that should have been categorized under "Civil Liberties, Violations."  Of course, any vice-principal will tell you that "these kids don't have any rights."  Which tells you much about their mindset.

You try gaining the respect of people, yes, even underage people, maybe especially underage people, after they've been searched (just because), had their lockers emptied, their contents strewn on the floor, been yelled at in a manner more befitting drill sergeants than educators!  You explain why teaching them is an honor, that there is nothing more important than their formation (to go French on you for a second), and to that end, their physical and emotional safety.

I ended up in surgery at the end of Raid Day -- at around 6 pm.  The next day, I developed a nasty  pneumonia.  I figure that it was probably lucky that I was out for the next couple of months.

True to form, those of us in the very liberal arts wrote letters, made phone calls, complained.  Brandished figurative fists until being ignored lapsed into being ridiculed.  And some of us were busy with physical therapy.

I plan to remind my darling brother Grader Boob that, at least, I had great insurance coverage and didn't have to fork out too much money for the surgery and the post-op pneumonia, the eight weeks of physical therapy, and the diagnostic tests which would then establish that my bones were for shit, most all displaying evidence of advanced avascular necrosis. 

Because breaking my hip led to a diagnosis of a larger problem, I probably should have sent young Anthony one of my famed thank you notes (monogrammed, embossed, and shiny!) but by then he was consumed by the rapid deterioration of the only parent he knew.

What was this post supposed to be about, anyway?  Oh, right.  Brother-Unit Grader Boob is out there trying to round up students, boost his numbers. 

Well, really, there's nothing he can do.  What?  You think these young, impressionable college folk are going to picket and protest on behalf of underemployed, nontenured academics?  Especially ones known to make good grades the awesome, difficult achievement they're supposed to be?

He's just too worried right now to be any fun and decided to rededicate the money for the flight toward the purchase of peanut butter and ramen noodles. La Bonne et Belle Bianca Castafiore was inconsolable.  She was really looking forward to seducing my brother.  He says he'll be here over Spring Break -- that we shall prance our way through the Final Four and marathons of Deadwood.  The Castafiore says maybe it's just as well.  She has some stunning fashions in the works for March Madness, as well as a few new cheers, jeers, and chants -- and she'd like to be a few pounds lighter. 

Hope springs eternal and youth is wasted on the young.

I just have to share this with you before entering the fray of another week.  Perusing Emily Dickinson's famous March Madness basketball poem, poem #1333 --

A little madness in the Spring

Is wholesome even for the King,

But God be with the Clown —

Who ponders this tremendous scene —

This whole Experiment of Green —

As if it were his own!

-- I noticed that someone had left a comment on the poetry website.  Specifically, one Mae Oxendine, who wrote:

Dear,Emily Dickson
My name is Mae. I am 12 and I thought your poem was wonderful.
It was very cool. I love spring poems. From Ina Mae Oxendine from United States.
-- April 12th, 2006 at 2:46 PM.

I'll have to give Ina Mae Oxendine's name to Grader Boob, as she's now close to college age and odds are that she's delightful, unlikely to sleep in class, and one spunky little peer editor.

From The Album Project

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