Coffee Stains: The Five People you meet in School

I’ve just finished emailing a former student and saying that I couldn’t attend her wedding reception in a few weeks. And it’s got me thinking about a previous comment that I’ve made to a student when they asked “Do you like all of your students?” To which I replied simply “No.” And I think that conversation then pushed the limits of typical classroom scripting when the same student asked “Are there teachers here that you don’t like?” And I simply said “Of course.”

And you can probably see where the script goes from there…well actually this is more improv stuff as we’ve strayed from some point about Sentence Patten 2 and making sure that the verbs are in the same tense to create balance. It’s the stuff I like about school: the unscripted things.

“What teacher or teachers don’t you like?” he asks and before I can answer he says, wisely: “You said we can ask anything…you said that you are looking for us to ask honest questions…”

(I hope you can envision that smiling, smart alecky senior boy, trying to use the teacher’s words again him). It’s a double-dog dare moment and I still answer him truthfully in front of the class.

Nope, not going to tell you my response because you didn’t ask the question. But I think it may be safe to say that teachers are as much students in school as the students are.

My mom tells me that she simply couldn’t find me and that the office would call her and say “Mrs. Judson, your son is here at the school. Will you be picking him up?” The son was me and I was 4 years old. I wasn’t in preschool and I wasn’t enrolled. And here’s how I remember it:

When my mom wasn’t looking, I would simply walk down Washoe Court, turn left on Neotomas Ave, cross Tachevah Drive and walk across the amazingly large field to Yulupa Elementary school. You’d run into the original playground first (the one with “all things metal-tubed”: monkey bars, balancing bars, swinging bars and lots of kid-smashed sawdust). The community chipped in a couple years later (I think the National Guard even showed up) and built a huge playground to the southeast out of recycled tires. Anyway, from the playground you crossed the blacktop and headed through a corridor and I decided to turn right and opened the door in the corner.

No one saw me slip in and so I waited a moment, closed the door and saw that several classes were spread out this enormous open space (California was still playing with the open classroom concept). I scouted the groups, found one that seemed interesting, and simply plopped myself indian-style (as we called it then…now it’s “criss-cross apple sauce,” so my sons tell me) and listened to the story being told.

I’m not sure how long it took, but eventually (I think it was about an hour) I was asked a question by an adult (such as “So what is your name?”). And I remember her looking at me with that look. I think the expression was a cross between the look that Julie Vogel gave me after our first kiss and the look that Lois gives me when I say something in which I am trying to cross a social line. And I think it was my response that prompted the look, because, I’m told, I had a speech problem. Apparently, as my mom reminds me, I was inarticulate and what came out of my mouth sounded more Chinese than English.

[Insert way-too-obvious student quip here such as: “Not much has changed, eh?”]

The adult then walked me to the office (sort of that “lost boy in the big mall thing” scene) and I was greeted by soothing and understanding tones (yes, I could understand English…I just couldn’t speak it very well). The secretary (that’s what we called them back then) called my mother while I got to do “real school work”: color. Mom arrives, nervous smiles/apologies/thankyou’s, driving away in the 1968 Ford Galaxie.

I don’t think she yelled at me, but I think I remember some type of “You had me worried” thematic explanation. What I do remember is that I couldn’t wait to go back…and so I did–a year later–sort of legally. My mom’s gift to me was to sort of fudge my birthday date so that I could be in school a bit earlier than originally planned. And that was okay by me, because I couldn’t wait.

And I have to say, most days I still can’t wait to get to school. And I find that what I like and hate about school is about the same as when I was a student. Under the “Things I like” list, and at the top, is one of the reasons why I keep coming back. Sorry, it’s not students. They’re probably second or third. But really, it’s the same reason why students come to school: their friends. I like the people I work with. We drink coffee and occasionally go out to breakfast and, yes, we might even sit by the same people at lunch. We have stuff in common and we know each other and they let me hang around with them. Yes, students are a big part of my day, but frankly, you people don’t stick around for very long. I’m not sure if you realized this, but we get you for maybe an hour or two a trimester and then you’ve graduated. The constant in my work are the people I work with and that’s what brings me back.

Ah, I can see the smart alecky kid ready to ask about the things I hate and to that I will list the usual suspects (and, btw, some of these are fairly universal along many career lines):

  • A seemingly endless amount of non-classroom things-to-do that simply lack cohesion, for the purpose of trying to show something that the organization is not. (Busy work)
  • A loss of vision of what we are really here for and in its place check lists from outside experts who are not even practitioners of education. (Vision)
  • A underlying, smirky and patronizing attitude from the people that make the decisions– that don’t acknowledge the teacher as professional. (Respect)
  • A society that has given into the notion that one can effectively, efficiently, and accurately quantify learning. (People as numbers)
  • A belief that all people learn the same way and the same pace and that a moving target called a “benchmark” is the trump card for whether a student passes or fails. (No achievable goals)
  • A notion that education is the magic bullet for all of societies ills. (“We can always do better”)
  • A belief that students are simply not as smart as they were back when and that schools are simply watering down the basics of a good education.
  • And, my favorite: A “commonsense” notion that education’s purpose is to turn out better workers in society (say nothing about living and thinking).

I simply hate and abhor those things; some are out of ignorance and most are simply not true.

And I take a look at the list of things that I like and the things that I hate and I think “Not much has changed from when I was a student.” I have about five or so people that I really like and, I have control issues. And, I still sometimes show up in the classroom simply speaking something Chinese…oh, that’s for next year.

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Explore posts in the same categories: Belief, Coffee Stains, Culture, education, Politics, Writing

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