Friday, July 1, 2011

The Great MOVE

Hello, friends. My apologies for my six-week absence. I needed to percolate.

So, it is finally, finally summer vacation. NYC students and teachers really went to the Bitter End this year...I'm thinking next year we'll be there until the 4th of July. I have a sneaking suspicion that on the 28th, we may have been the only students and teachers in the country still in school. No matter, though, it's July 1st, and my relief is overwhelming. The first few days of summer I always think, "Wow. I came out of June ALIVE and still sane!"

June is quite a month. Aside from the excessive amount of cleaning and paperwork, emotions run very high among the staff and students. Especially at my school, where consistency is a foreign concept to the administration. It may help now to throw in a description of the Dungeon itself.

Our building is a 100 year old, traditional, four-story (five including the basement, which sits halfway above the ground) red-brick monstrosity, spreading over an entire city block. There are metal gratings on the windows and in the stairwells and very high ceilings from which long fluorescent light fixtures hang. The students take much pleasure in throwing their pencils in the air to see if they can land them on top of the fixtures.

The basement is rumored to be haunted by the spirit of a young girl who drowned in the swimming pool, which is currently sealed underneath the student cafeteria and filled with old books. In the basement, there is a long, tiled, skinny, door less, windowless hallway. It runs the entire width of the school and I will openly admit that I do not walk alone through it unless I absolutely HAVE to. I have often seen movement from my peripheral vision and felt the prickle of goosebumps when walking through. Although I digress, the reason for this creepy little tidbit is to add that even the building itself and the spirits within it are very unsettled.

My first year, I had a room on the second floor. My second year, I had a room on the third floor. My third year, I had a room on the first floor. Now I am slotted to teach on the fourth floor, which involved moving all materials up three flights all the way to the opposite end of the building with no elevator. Now, please don't think I'm special, or being singled out. I'm not. This year, EVERYONE had to move their classrooms. Last year, several people did. The program at this school is constantly changing every year.

I am going to speculate about the rationale behind this: keep us teachers on our toes and don't let us get too comfortable. After all, I'm sure we'll do a much better job when we have no idea what is headed our way. What message is this sending to our students? That teachers can be bullied and pushed around, therefore the kids feel at liberty to do the same, to us, and to one another.

In the process of this entire-school MOVE, we were given certain guidelines in writing, and given our new room numbers only two weeks before the end of the year, although we were not allowed to actually start moving until we only had one week left. Once that time came, we only were permitted to move our things during our lunch or prep periods. We could only move our things to our new room when that room was empty (and because of the packed-tight schedule, that was hardly ever). Yes, our students could help us move, but only during their lunch period, so if the new room wasn't empty then, we could not enlist their help. So of course, people felt pressured for time. Everyone scrambled to their new rooms to check the schedules of those rooms, and many people discovered that it would be literally impossible to move in that amount of time under the guidelines that the principal insisted on enforcing with a vengeance.

Imagine a school of over a thousand children and over eighty teachers all trying to move their classrooms all in the same week under those limitations? Oh and of course we are required to have rigorous, engaging lessons planned until the very last minute, don't forget that.

It's absolute mayhem. People are starting to bend under the pressure (and the heat on the 4th floor). People are trying their best to be their wonderful, accommodating selves, but under such stress, tempers tend to flare,  and territoriality may rear its ugly head every once in a blue moon. I'm not saying I experienced this myself, but anyone put into such a stressful situation will get snippy once in a while. As a whole, the staff at my current school is the kindest, friendliest, most supportive group of people I have ever had the pleasure of collaborating with. Because we are such good, nice teachers, we sucked it up, dealt with it, plastered smiles on our sweaty, flushed faces and did our very best to do what was asked of us by the administration because, well, we really had no choice. The GREAT MOVE was happening, weather we liked it or not. We had no voices in the matter. So mostly, we accepted it, banded together to make it possible, shut up, moved our shit, and continued to be doormats.

The last day of school, though only a week away, feels completely out of reach and we can't wrap our minds around it. Kids are slinking around the halls and the classrooms with their hair plastered to their heads. Teachers have blisters on their feet. I suffer from two horrible sinus migraines due to the dust that is kicked up during my packing. My hair looks like a Brillo pad. The humidity level is high so students are puffing on their inhalers and begging to leave the room for water every five minutes, but we are "not allowed" to send anyone out of the room 8th period, when the school is hottest and the kids are the thirstiest.

And here, my friends, is the cherry on top of the sundae:

No one can adhere to the impossible MOVING GUIDELINES and still get it all done in time, so naturally, in the last few days, the rules went out the window for some who simply had no choice. I suppose the Principal picked up on this, and decided this was her cue to go on the loudspeaker each day and loudly, obnoxiously berate us about not following her "guidelines for moving as stated in the memo", for all of the students to hear. Her tone of voice reminded me of a mother telling her four year old to get his finger out of his nose. This occurred three times during the final days. I was wondering at which point she would venture out of her little air-conditioned office and maybe pick up a box or even a roll of fade less paper and hike it up to the 4th floor to give someone a hand, considering is was SHE who created this abominable situation. I mean, EVERY teacher on the first floor was slotted to move up to the fourth. Why not chip in?

Usually, the end of the year is the time when we really get to enjoy our kids. You know, we are shoving standardized test prep down their throats all year and this makes it difficult to truly bond or strike up a meaningful conversation that doesn't involve the State Learning Standards. Let's face it, the State omits important educational components such as compassion, confidence-building, and self-expression. I've always loved June because of the open curriculum, the opportunity to teach whatever I want, such as kindness or poetry. Every year I love reading aloud and having meaningful political class discussions, even if my room is 95 degrees and the kids are at their craziest. At this time, I know my students well, we trust each other and have formed a family-type bond. Each morning I am greeted with a hug by some, a high-five from others, or a homemade card. One of my girls called me Ma by accident a few times. Well, this year, that went out the window too for EVERYONE. No time to bond or relish in relationships we have formed. We had to PACK and MOVE, now, now, now. As a result, our students lost the opportunity to see us in full free creative mode. Some didn't even say good-bye.
Please don't think that I am ungrateful. I am lucky to have this job that keeps a roof over my family's head. I am ETERNALLY grateful for the summer off, so I have the opportunity to collect myself and reboot and plan for the next year, because the curriculum constantly changes too. I do not like representing myself as one of those whiny teachers who "doesn't know how good she has it".  But SWEET JESUS, June was made much more stressful than it had to be, than it already is, by an administration who wields power like it is blindly throwing bricks at our heads all year.

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