Thursday, August 11, 2011

Rez Time

At Zuni High, we're starting behind the rest of the district and much of the state.

Okay, wait wait! Before you say "oh, gosh, Teach For America, I've had enough of your bell-tolling-nay-saying-deatwatch-beetle-scratching melodrama," hear me out.

I arrived prepped and primed for the first day with my four classes of Junior English, one of Sophomore pre-AP, and one of Journalism. I had my gads of copies (I have roughly 90 students total), my classroom was decorated to the nines, and I didn't look so shabby either. The only perceivable downside was the fact that they're currently roofing, so it sounds like a Viking bowling tournament above my head.

Then, as I was allocating my dialogue journals (SO excited for these!) to the proper shelf based on period, I  started to detecting an odd odor. "Qué vida!" I thought. Not only did I have a cacophonous classroom (even without kids), but now it was odoriferous as well. But really. It smelled like a putrefying swamp. Determined to persevere, I continued reviewing my notes for the "First Day" lecture / info session.

Then a science teacher jogged by.
Me: Huh --?
Him: Evacuate the building!!!
Me: Huh??

Then the fire alarm went off. So I gathered a notebook and my keys, and did exactly that.

The verdict? A major gas leak had sprung when the roofers (whose daytime job is actually demolition), attempted to bodily tear off one of the swamp coolers. So we were left to shepherd our students and wait.

Our principal, really a stellar guy - he kept in good spirits throughout this fiasco, if that tells you anything - called everyone and their guinea pig and told us the news: we would begin our school year on Friday, not today.

So when I said that we at Zuni began behind, I meant it: we're literally beginning behind the rest of the district.

A more sobering update is that we don't have school tomorrow either - it turns out that the gas leak, while capped, revealed that the entire gas line is shoddy, suspect, and susceptible to the same sort of damage if the roofing continues. While this is good for curriculum planning (I'll go make a list of our book room books tomorrow morning), it means that I'll see my kids on Monday at the earliest.

If I had had ONE day with them, I would have assigned them homework, at least. If I had had a month or two (and if I'd built proper culture), I feel we could have an outside-of-school class meeting or discussion or something! But as it is, not even knowing their faces or their names outside the roster, I'm relatively helpless.

The writing diagnostic - replete with an Ian Frazier quote ("I'm afraid of people thinking, 'There's nothing out there anyway, so let's ruin it.' There's an idea of the Plains as the middle of nowhere, something to be contemptuous of. But it's really a heroic place.") for the juniors, a John McPhee story for the 10th grade pre-AP (the must-read "The Silk Parachute"), and a photograph of the Chilean riots for my journalism students to mock up an article - will have to wait. "Museum Indians" (Susan Power) and "Sole of Summer" (class culture assignment where kids trace their foot and decorate it with summer memories) will have to wait. And most importantly, I believe, the sense of urgency must wait. It's a tough thing, and I'm not sure how to phrase it, but I know it behooves me to talk about the fact that they NEED to take the SAT this year. They NEED to catch up - their NMSBA (state test) proficiency level is at 27%. And as part of this, they NEED to start (or continue!) finding ways to relate to a curriculum and a canon that largely portrays people that are nothing like them. I'm just anxious to begin our study of "Identity in America."


But shall I take a brief step back? I think I shall.

My name's Ms. Lix, and I'm a 2011 Teach For America corps member working in the Zuni Pueblo. When absolutely elated about my transfer to the NM region (and that's another story), I often spoke with my friends at college about my excitement (and ignorance) about living "on the rez." In college, I was a drama major, the "Chicken Lady" of our school farm, the chair of our queer-identified campus group, and an RA: my life was theatre, farming, rainbows, and ResLife. In other words, a far cry from rural NW New Mexico.

Anywho, one day when I was voicing these thoughts with a good friend, she looked at me earnestly and said: "Well, it'll be ResLife to Rez Life, huh?" Finding this one of the wittier things in recent memory, I promised her that if I made a blog, that's what it would be titled. So, voilá! - ResLife to Rez Life.


If you're familiar with the TFA model, you'll know I've spent all summer preparing for teacherhood. The first week was Induction at the wonderful El Rancho in Gallup; the next seven weeks, at the hellmouth Phoenix. While the city itself is a preposterous (we're talking inconceivably, without precedent bad) waste of resources and the clime intended for saguaros, gila monsters, and little else, I enjoyed very much teaching 3rd grade to a group of "College-Bound Coyotes" at an Imagine Charter school. Institute - as the "teacher bootcamp" is called - was exhausting, overwhelming, but a very human thing. Also, I was exceedingly blessed with a grade-A awesome group of people: New MexiCorps, my roommate (who's now my housemate!!!), my school team, my COLLAB (whom I co-taught with), and my kids. The latter were certainly a challenge, but that made the victories with them all the better. Meaning, reading Gooseberry Park with them and having them cling to every last word was an exceptionally validating experience.
It was at Institute that I was hired by the Zuni Public School District; so, after a weeklong visit to Pojoaque and Colorado to visit loved ones and pick up my kitty Checkers and a week of Orientation back at El Rancho, I moved down to Zuni.

And that's how I find myself here - in a lovely little trailer near the old pueblo and next to the most popular park in town (we're talking c. 50 kids playing basketball on a smallish court nightly). Emily and I have planted a little garden, so we've the bean and squash and lettuce and chard and beet babies just poking their heads out of the soil. Checkers has eaten every spider in the house, a visit from my mother put us much at ease and put leftovers in the fridge, and we've scavenged a big ole dog house to use as a chicken coop. 

All sorts of beginnings. It's funny to think how many more people have been catalogued away in my brain that two weeks ago, I didn't know existed. (Let alone the entire summer!) The kind neighbors, the crazy / cool teachers at ZHS, our next-door Dachshund who growls and carries around stones. The first time I witnessed this, my next door neighbor reprimanded her, saying "Tina! We are NOT playing rocks right now!"
Oh, yeah. Her name's Tina.

I reckon I better be off to read more of the Unit One selections in my Prentice Hall textbook. So far I've read and enjoyed the short stories in the collection. ("Tepeyac" by Sandra Cisneros, "Games at Twilight" by Anita Desai, and "The Leap" by Louise Erdrich, to name my favorites. "Monkey's Paw" by W. W. Jacobs and "Contents of the Dead Man's Pocket" by Jack Finney were also quite enjoyable)

It's a beautiful place. It's already firmly earned the title of "Home."

Now, to firmly earn the title of "Teacher."

(the classroom)
(The numbers are SAT goals, along with [barely visible] boxes that show colleges with their median scores. The board underneath the "700" is the Shout Out board and is bordered by pictures from the La Manchan lagunas in Spain)

(I've been temporarily robbed of my bookcases, but the classroom library will be under these two posters. The lefthand poster says "like chicks? we do!" and is on its third life. In its first life, it was a sign advertising taking care of the baby chicks at the Farm; in its second life, it was used as décor in the "Gay"sement of our house last year; and currently, it is adorned with women writers: Cather, Austen, Morrison, Walker, Hurston, Power, Woolf, Cisneros, and Sappho.)

1 comment:

  1. I am so excited to read all about your new TFA life! I can already tell your blog is going to be all kinds of wondahful. Good luck as things really start to take off! I know you'll be grrrrrreat!