Sunday, February 10, 2019

Chalkduster's Journey to Redemption: Part I

So yes, 2012 was the year it all changed. To help it make sense to you, I have to back up a little further. A little foundation never hurt anyone. Besides, my life is interesting. Why not share? We can only learn from each other's experiences.

The very start of my career as an educator was on the cusp of NCLB . I attained my Master's Degree the year of Colombine. The path was already set for a rough travels.

(No Child Left Behind...George W. Bush's brain fart that led to corporate education reform...) It was also right before 9/11 and everything else that static time in our history flew at us. I began teaching in a Bronx kindergarten classroom in 2000. In the very school where I attended kindergarten! Those wonderful ladies who taught me how to read were suddenly teaching me how to teach how to read. I was ecstatic. Those little ones stole my heart! So loving! Like puppies! They loved me, no matter what mood I was in, what I was wearing, who was in trouble, or what was for lunch. Little-kid unconditional love...nothing like it in the world. 

A reminder that humanity actually has a chance, that automatic love and kindness did exist, at least at one time, in all of us. That, I basked in every day, it was my warm sunshine. 

But even back then, almost twenty years ago, I sensed something was amiss when I was instructed to perform academic assessments on four and five year old babies. My mentors themselves rolled their eyes and sadly shook their heads when playtime and other developmentally appropriate activities were replaced with phonics and sight word drills. By the onset of the 2001 school year, the blocks and toys were collecting dust, and the dramatic-play area was gone. Sure, we made learning fun anyway, as teachers will do under most circumstances. We read tons of quality children's literature. Clifford, Curious George, Harry The Dirty Dog, The Rainbow Fish, Caps for my nostalgia, I could go on and on.  To be honest,, it did feel pretty satisfying when the assessments showed tangible growth at the end of the year. So, with a gritted-teeth smile, I did what I was told.

Although I truly loved my job then,  (I'd give up my right arm for it now...) I could see the dark cloud of testing and profiteering approaching. Very metaphorical when I remember seeing on television the gray cloud of debris engulfing the city like an angry monster when our Towers fell. 

Of course, like everyone else, 9/11 shook me to my core. I was twenty-four. After work, I had lots and lots of fun, too much fun, adapting an I-can-die-at-any-time mentality. It was a time of, let's say, self-exploration.

 As a result of my very wonderful time, I found myself pregnant with my (now sixteen-year-old) son, and temporarily left teaching in 2004 to attend to my own family matters, which included ending an extremely painful relationship and becoming a single mom. For the next five or so years, I stayed away from NYC, attempted to find a position in the suburbs, but to no avail. So back to The Big Apple I headed, in 2008, this time to a middle school with a student body of over fifteen hundred. 

Unconditional love? Puppies? Barely. Still lovable, but more like angry, gum-snapping, sagging-pants wearing little souls who indignantly flopped their way into my classroom. Not all of them. There were a few puppies left, generally those who were not tainted, at the ages of eleven or twelve, by abuse, hunger, gang violence or homelessness. Teachers, am I remiss to say we always love them anyways? And the ones who give us the most trouble and annoy us to our very core are the ones we love the most?

When I began this blog in 2011, it was my third year teaching 6th grade in The Bronx, Language Arts and Social Studies. Standardized testing had found its home in our classrooms. Pre-Common Core, but paving the path for Pearson Publishing, those years were very telling. High-stakes tests weren't going anywhere. They were too profitable. Teach to that test, OR ELSE.  

In my school, bubble-testing was in full swing. Obama was elected into office my first year teaching the sixth grade. Arne Duncan, the gangly basketball player with not one minute of public school teaching experience, was appointed Commissioner of Education, meaning, an ignorant doofus was placed in charge of public education for the entire country. I swear, he and Obama were (and still are) like Dumb and Dumber. Or Laurel and Hardy. 

To my dismay, they insisted on high-stakes testing as a means of asessment to determine funding, evaluating, and labeling schools. Such hypocrisy coming from a black man who claimed to understand the plight of the "underclass". I mean, duh. How did he think angry, hungry city (or impoverished rural) kids would perform on tests that were not only tortuously boring, but a poor-quality means of assessment? Did he think they would jump for joy and beg to prepare for them? Did he think their failing scores, being labeled as a number between one and four would INSPIRE them? LOLOLOLOL!

It became a race. A race to the top. A race between the privileged who had support at home, and the poor, who were stuck in the cycle of living for survival. Naturally, the privileged were winning the race. And the funding. And now it continues, still funded by tax dollars, Pearson Publishing's profits and the Common Core Curriculum that has lately sent parents and teachers spinning. See this post of mine from 2012. I saw it coming, and it was ugly.

If you'd like to read about what it was like for me teaching Middle School in The Bronx, I strongly suggest these previous posts of mine:  A Day in The Life,  My Famous Death Glare, and When the shy one completely baffles me..... There are plenty more, but in reading back, these three entries give an authentic and colorful depiction of the amazing experience. The blog is apparently so old that it exists but I can't edit or continue it. I had to begin this one, under a new address, instead. If any of my readers can help me figure out how to just continue that previous blog, your guidance would be much appreciated. I miss my old blog. It truly kept me going in 2011.

This was all a lot for me. At the time, in 2011, my (now ex) husband  was unemployed, money was tight, and my teaching job was consuming me to the point that my own boy started to fade into the background. I could not allow that. So after much careful consideration, I decided it was time to go back to teaching Kindergarten. It made sense. I loved it, I had experience.

At that time, there was no standardized testing in Kindergarten, Formal Assessments, yes. But bubble tests had not yet infiltrated the early childhood classroom. I requested and was granted a transfer to an elementary school in the South Bronx. A new start. In retrospect, one of the many huge mistakes of the year 2012 that I am still reeling from.

So, here I was in a new school, after three years in a middle school, excited to finally be teaching the Lovable Kindergarten Puppies again. 

You can read about my last teaching experience in my post entitled, Chalkduster is Broken.

cold February morning, I walked away. In the middle of the day, on a Monday, in the middle of the year. I remember throwing the doors of the school open, stepping out into the streets of the South Bronx, the freezing air meeting and biting my tear-stained face. I knew it was a pivotal moment. I left and did not look back. I refused to go back. I was broken. I'd reached my limit, had enough.

The financial and emotional repercussions of that decision are still affecting my life to this very day. But that's the story. That's why I stopped blogging. I gave up. I was ashamed. I couldn't write. How would I, how could I keep a blog about teaching if I wasn't really teaching? 

Now I'm back, because I can't NOT write. The content, I'll figure it out. My message is the same.

The past three years of bouncing from teaching job to teaching job, from home to home, from county to county, is a formidable journey worth recording.

For awhile I escaped with my son to
a teeny tiny town in farm-country in Upstate New York, where it's literally -8 degrees outside, where I am a single mom, a substitute teacher for two local districts and a private school, and loving it. The ever-laborious task of searching and searching for a regular teaching job, or ANY steady work that involves helping children in ANY way, is constant. I don't give up.

I am still struggling, again, with my son, to survive. Full disclosure...we live under the threat of eviction, my internet being shut off from time to time, and car insurance payments sending me into panic attacks. My pension is gone. I've stood on line for countless hours at The Department of Social Services, and am the proud carrier of a blue-and-white NY State Benefit Card.  My boy is old enough to be aware of these suffocating problems, and I am filled with regret, because my rash descision to walk away from NYC Schools has affected the stability of his future. There is no turning back.

Tears are falling as I write.

I put us here, and now we are living with it. I'm trying to make lemonade, but my lemon supply is limited. For now, I substitute teach in a small city in NY State, one that is riddled with poverty, homelessness, and high-crime where shootings occur weekly and homeless people die in abandoned buildings set aflame. I continue to teach in a high-needs area because it keeps the blood coursing through my veins.

Who we are is ultimately a result of our choices. Those choices then affect those we love, either directly, or they feel the backlash. I've lost many friends. I'm living with that. These are the cards I have dealt myself. Let's hope the next hand is a little better. Oh, and of course. My son and I REFUSE THE TESTS!! You should, too if you haven't joined the ever-growing movement already.

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