Classroom Prep

It’s that time of year again. I’m taking the day off work to help Xy get her classroom in order. Mostly this involves putting educational posters up on the wall, which is easier for me because I’m taller. The kids don’t read the posters, but every competent teacher has to buy them (out of their own pocket) and put them up or they’ll look bad. Of course they can also be used as teaching aids, but that is a secondary function. Mainly they’re intended to create the impression that this is a place where learning happens.

As a science teacher, Xy is lucky to have a sink. Unfortunately the faucet yields only a trickle of water, and the school has no money for a plumber. However, they do have money to fly all the teachers out to Epcot Center for a three day retreat. Still trying to figure that one out.

Beating Our Children

Although I’m proud of Xy for being a good teacher in the public schools, it’s also a source of frustration for both of us. She so often comes home worn out, angry and overwhelmed. Every school day is an exhausting drama. Not only that, but most of her evenings and weekends are full of homework, and she has to pay for many supplies out of her own pocket. But I digress.

We’ve got a teacher shortage in New Orleans, and as a result the two other teachers at Xy’s grade level are older folks who’ve come out of retirement. Good for them, in theory. But in point of fact these teachers are not really able to cope with the reality of today’s school. One is at least trying, but the other doesn’t seem to care. In fact, it’s worse than that. He’s abusive to the children and harasses his fellow workers.

Most recently this teacher punished his students by handing out a bunch of failing grades, on a seemingly arbitrary basis.

At least one child was beaten as a result. Xy discovered this yesterday when she noticed the child had a sore arm. When she rolled up her sleeve Xy saw a huge welt. As it turned out she had severe bruises all over her body. She confessed that her father had beaten her severely when he discovered she’d gotten an F.

Xy reported this to the school’s social workers, and they had her call Child Protective Services. Xy had a lot of trepidation and misgivings about that. She didn’t want to make things worse for this child. But she really had no choice.

CPS was supposed to visit the child’s home last night and photograph her injuries. I wonder how that went.

What a terrible situation. Of course the parent bears the full responsibility for his actions. But Xy is also angry at the teacher who handed out failing grades without rhyme or reason, simply to punish the children, whom he can’t seem to manage except through fear and intimidation. Later in the day, when Xy came back down to the office on an unrelated matter, she overheard a visiting parent exclaim that her child would be receiving a beating for bring home an F from the same teacher.

Xy’s also angry at the school administration, because they haven’t taken the appropriate steps to reign in this rogue teacher. But she figures that child would have received a beating on another pretext eventually.

A teacher can’t solve everything, but it weighs heavily on Xy nonetheless.

It’s easy to despise the abusive parent and put ourselves above him. But that’s a dangerous moral trap. If we don’t provide a decent education for all our children, we’re effectively beating them down. And I’m sorry to say that’s still the case in New Orleans today, despite the big rhetoric about transforming our schools.

Yeah, I said it. Our current school system is a form of child abuse.

Update: The events described above took place on Thursday. On Monday, Xy learned that CPS still hadn’t visited the child’s house. In fact, CPS has no record of Xy’s call on Thursday. Supposedly they are rescheduling. Meanwhile the child’s bruises have steadily faded.

A Nite on the Town

Last night I went to a party for a friend’s 40th birthday. There was a giant screen in the yard upon which were projected videos from the early days of MTV. It was also a karaoke system. I’ve always been skeptical of karaoke as a concept, but come to think of it I don’t think I’ve ever really seen full-blown karaoke action until last night. It was actually a lot of fun — to watch. I didn’t give it a try myself, though I might have if I’d stuck around longer.

As it was, I headed out to the Circle Bar to see Bloomington’s own Early Day Miners. Great show. Afterwards I helped the band load their equipment up to their hotel nearby. We ended up back at the Circle Bar where a guy from Detroit named Lester struck up a conversation with me. We had an interesting talk, but it kind of bummed me out when he asked me for money. Was the whole conversation just a hustle? I probably should have gone home then, as it was around 2:00 AM, but instead I accompanied the band uptown to St. Joe’s in search of a good mojito. They do mix ’em good there. Afterward we stopped at The Saint for a last round, and I got home around 5:30.

Despite downing quite a few drinks over the course of the evening, I wasn’t too hungover today, but I took it easy nonetheless, napping and doing the crossword and really not worrying about anything, which was a nice change of pace.

Xy, on the other hand, has plenty to worry about because Monday is the first day of school. I took Friday off to help get her classroom set up.

As long as I’m catching up on recent events, I should mention that Friday was also the last day for my boss at work. By now I expect he’s well on his way up to the Great White North. He will be missed.

On Thursday we presented him with a gift of a pair of steel-toed Wolverine work boots, which he’ll surely need for the vast acreage he’s purchased up there.

On Wednesday he and I went out for lunch at Coop’s Place and then checked out the new exhibit at the Historic New Orleans Collection, which is titled “City of Hope.” Fascinating stuff, and I highly recommend it. It doesn’t leave one feeling very hopeful, however. The exhibit provides historical context for the Katrina disaster. After taking it all in, I couldn’t help but wonder. We seem stuck in the third world here — could it be because we’re always recovering from disaster?

Punch

Xy got punched in the stomach today by a third-grader. She confiscated a basketball from him; he was playing instead of getting in line for the bus. She’s fine. He’s expelled. Same kid that took a crap in the stairwell last month.

Oh yeah. The schools are in great shape.

My Saturday Morning with SWAT

I thought we were done getting supplies from Habans Elementary several weeks ago. But we keep going back to Xy’s old school for more stuff.

Today we got some help from some of the SWAT guys who are camped out there. These cops can’t go home because their homes were flooded. They can’t take up residence on the cruise ship that houses other homeless cops because they have too many weapons.

The New Orleans Police Department doesn’t have a very good reputation. Personally, I always try to reserve judgement if I haven’t had first-hand contact with people.

They provided a big flatbed truck, and they helped us load it up with 15 tables and 30 stools for Xy’s classroom, and a lot of other supplies to boot.

SWAT, USMC, SWAT

We hung out a little, had some coffee, some bacon, eggs and grits. I’ve never really hung with cops before, and certainly not with SWAT. Mainly they talked about guns. I know nothing about guns, so I didn’t have much to say.

One guy, shaved bald and tattooed, seemed like a real hardhead. The gate of the truck (a heavy piece of metal) fell on his shoulder, which had just had surgery. I exclaimed “oh man!” But he didn’t flinch or say a word or even grimace. It was like he had to pretend he was Superman or something. Later he told Captain Jeff that even if he was hurting, which he clearly has to be, he wouldn’t admit it.

Captain Jeff was another story entirely: gracious, friendly, helpful, hospitable and, dare I say it, gentlemanly. I liked him.

But it was kind of strange when he mentioned they were keeping their eye on a demonstration taking place on St. Charles Avenue. Xy wondered if the protest might have something to do with the controversy surrounding the city’s attempt to demolish some homes in the Lower Ninth Ward.

“No,” one of the cops said, “It’s that clown from Common Ground.”

Needless to say I was intrigued, since I’m friends with Malik Rahim and have a pretty high regard for the Common Ground Collective.

Later I asked Cap’n Jeff about it. He allowed that “they actually do a lot of good work” but that this was an attempt “to win over hearts and minds, if you know what I mean,” because “it’s all very political.” He told me they were closely associated with an organization called Cop Watch, which goes around with video cameras “antagonizing” police and “basically provoking” them into misbehaving.

All of which seemed mighty suspect to me, but knowing what I know about the anti-authoritarian types at Common Ground, it’s no surprise they’re at odds with the cops.

Tuning into the evening news, I learned the protest was about the attempted eviction of some New Orleanians (rendered homeless by Katrina) from a hotel on St. Charles. Ultimately a judge issued a temporary restraining order stopping the evictions — at least for today. SWAT was not called in.

Back to School (Again)

Today was the first day of classes at several schools in the Algiers neighborhood of New Orleans, including Xy’s new school. It’s big news. That’s because these new charter schools — the Algiers Charter Schools Association — are billed as a bold new experiment for the city.

I don’t know quite what to think of the whole charter school concept. They’re essentially public but with some features of private schools. I was initially skeptical because it shuts out the teachers union. But then again, the union has often seemed to be a part of the problem. And insofar as charters decentralize the massive bureaucracy of the New Orleans Public Schools, I’m all for ’em.

Xy says she had a good day, perhaps the best “first” day she’s ever had. Actually it was a half day.

She had 40 students in her room today. One was white, three were Asian (Vietnamese), and 36 were black. She’ll be sharing these kids with another teacher, but that assignment hasn’t been made yet.

They’ll be doing half days for the rest of the year, assessing where the students are at and planning. And then in January they’ll start into a full day program.

Black and White

There are three elementary schools opening in the newly formed Algiers Charter School Association.

Xy attended a mass meeting the other day and observed that one elementary school has a white principal and one has a black principal. All the faculty at the former school are white. All the faculty at the latter school are black.

As for the third school, where Xy will be teaching: The principal is a Creole — a woman of mixed race. And at this school the faculty is roughly half black and half white.

I feel, like George Costanza, that I “shouldn’t be talking about this.” But it strikes me as both funny and sad, disappointing and inevitable.

Xy has also observed that, at her school with the mixed faculty, the teachers tend to hang with their own racial groups. The black teachers sit with the other black teachers; the white teachers sit with the other white teachers. They’re not racists. People are just most comfortable around people who are “like them.”

Nevertheless, Xy has made a point of sitting with the black teachers. It’s a small attempt to promote interracial solidarity.

Old School

I’ve spent the better part of the last two days hauling stuff from Xy’s old school to her new one. Just a short drive up and down DeGualle. Five car loads and half a pickup truck too.

A lot of people don’t realize that teachers tend to have to furnish all their own supplies, out of their own pockets. But that’s how it is.

Class(bed)room

SWAT/SOD is still using her old school as a base of operations. 80 guys, sort of a frat house atmosphere. The school yard is clogged with vehicles: police cruisers, SUVs, boats. The halls are lined with supplies: bottled water, batteries, Girl Scout cookies. Some beer, some porn.

I’ve volunteered to go back in, tomorrow maybe, and help retrieve more supplies on behalf of the principal.

New School

Today was Xy’s first day at Eisenhower Elementary. It was strange. Only two of the old Eisenhower faculty have been re-hired. There were former Eisenhower teachers in the building, retrieving their possessions, berating the new principal, and breaking down in tears. Xy feels guilty for having a job when other good teachers don’t. But she’s excited to have the opportunity to be (a part of) creating a new school in a new system.

Eisenhower

Job

Xy got a call today confirming that she’s got a job teaching at Eisenhower Elementary in Algiers. She starts tomorrow morning at 9am. The principal advised her to “wear your dungarees” so we can only assume the school needs some clean-up. School starts on the 14th, half-days at first, with full days in the new year.