Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sayonara, Old Man Gloom

With a week of narrowly-avoided bear maulings, a public dissection, and watching someone burned at the stake, I feel like I have barely made it out with my 8th Amendment rights secured. To be fair, the dissection was that of a sheep's brain and the conflagration was that of Zozobra. . . but the bear was real. But I get ahead of myself.

On Tuesday morning, I happily biked over to the nearby high school to be a 'one-on-one SPED EA' for that day and Wednesday. I was so content to not have to drive, and also pleased that the sidewalk leading to the school wasn't remotely congested. How lovely! I was chaining up my bike when I heard a security guard shouting.
"Get inside the building!"
I straightened up, shrugged on my backpack. The guard in question was herding the few students in the courtyard into the academic wing. I started for the door as he repeated, "Get inside, everyone! There's a bear on campus."
Well, then. I was more than willing to schlepp inside, especially when I learned that the bear in question was in fact a mama bear AND her cub. It was a legendary night at Colorado College ('09) when my friend and I were on RA duty, there was a bear on campus, it was Homecoming, a terrible ice storm had coated everything in a half inch slick casing, and Safe Ride had ceased to operate in light of the inclement weather. We were convinced that all the inebriated alums were going to slip, slide into the road, be crippled by a passing car, and then devoured by the lurking bear.
Despite the fine weather, I think this must've been the fear of the local police / guards, for I spent the first two hours of my sub gig on ursine 'lock down.' ULD, apparently, consists of allowing any and all students in your classroom to get on their phones, chat wantonly, and generally do whatever they want for the duration. 

Eventually, the ULD was lifted. . . but you wouldn't have been able to tell in my classroom. The phones certainly didn't go away. No academic content was covered the entire day. The. Entire. Day. When I asked students or aides what lesson we were supposed to be doing, they shrugged and continued doing whatever they wanted. Some students went to electives throughout the day,  and together with a super-friendly CP student I instigated writing a story (about zombies & Bigfoot, pretty cool), and for about 15 minutes toward the end of the day they counted money. . . but that was the extent. 
Trying to withhold judgment, I assured myself that it had been the bear. "Tomorrow," I thought, "tomorrow will be a better day."
It was, in that there was probably 30-45 minutes of academic action / instruction. We'll ignore the fact that though the teacher:student ratio was close to 1:1, they still decided to do whole class instruction. When you have a severely autistic kid all the way to a close-if-not-on-grade-level student, there are some inherent problems with whole class instruction. 
I felt superfluous at best, and outraged at the system for a lot of the time.
Some 'high'lights (low lights? darkness?):
  •  The classroom operates a school-wide store where the students sell all sorts of junk food to their peers. This would be okay - a little unfortunate nutrition-wise, but good social schooling - if it wasn't monopolized by several over-makeupped, overbearing aides whose only concern (or capability, for that matter) seemed to be carrying on horsely about the 'Jazzy CafĂ©.' They completed all purchasing, planning, and the majority of the actual transactions. Who is supposed to be benefitting, again?
  •  The students are only allowed two electives, but sit in lunch for an hour and a half each day. This is so they can work shifts at the store? Have extra time to eat? So far as I could tell, this was time to eat at the pace of their peers and then chat idly for the next hour.
  •  I witnessed a teacher make fun of a student and the other aides laugh. They asked what class a certain SPED student was in - if you care to know, a delightful, articulate, sweet, easy-going guy - and one aide piped in, "Oh, I think it was advanced chemistry." The other aides cracked up. Oh. My. God.
  •  On the second day, a teacher was trying to get a(n extremely sensitive) student to get out a pencil and write her name on the top of the sheet. Of course, he had to bark his remonstrations at the front of the room rather than sending one of the 8 idle adults to quietly re-direct. Finally, the student said that he had yelled at her, so why should she listen to him? They commenced an argument. The teacher decided he should demonstrate. "No," he said, "I was raising my voice. See, this is what it sounds like. I am not shouting." Then, he shouted, "This is what yelling sounds like." The student in question furrowed up further, but a Downs girl in the front row was terrified and burst into tears. The aides, predictably, sniggered.

These were the silver linings I dredged:
* The students were WONDERFUL to get to know. I got to write stories, chat, help as best I could. One student looked exactly like the former ZHS ELA chair who terrorized me, but she was fortunately as sweet as they come. The student I wrote stories with insisted that I come back for his birthday party at school in a couple of weeks. I got to chat in length in Spanish with a guy who's half Chinese, 1/4 Navajo, and 1/4 Mexican and whose cousin is Noel Torres. The aide sitting near us commented that I should teach ESL and then went back to playing solitaire on her phone.
I also created this awesome poster on the prompting of one obsessed student and then taped it on another student's folder.
I chose Louis, of course, because he was the only one still available. One student had sole dibs on Harry Styles. . . Through all of this 'chilling time,' however, I couldn't help but think and think, as my mother said, "This is their one, precious education." Well, well.
* One aide is just incredible. He has an incredible rapport with the students, sings corridos all over the place, and always has a ready, gentle smile. He shared the 'Cholo mantra' and stories of his first interactions with hippies in the New Mexican mountains in '66. I wish he had felt more initiative academically, but he at least made the students feel loved and safe. As he professed, he feels that the students are truly special, that they have something that we lack, and that he feels honored to work with them. (What's important, is I could tell he was genuine in that sentiment - it wasn't just some Lifetime claptrap.)

And THAT was my subbing experience from the last week. I still haven't decided whether I need to keep my distance for a while or if I want to try to worry my way in. It's just so terribly frustrating - on top of all the enraging things, I felt SO helpless to do anything. I wasn't just a sub, wasn't just an EA; I was a SPED EA, in the same room as a teacher CHOOSING to do nothing. 

On Thursday, then, after a good but exhaustingly long meeting at the birth center, it was highly instructive to get to burn Zozobra. It was wildly cathartic, especially after those two days, to watch Gloom burn to cinders, and then smoke. 

However, it was also more than a little eerie. . . Zozobra seems more than a little animate in the way he groaned and cast his head about. When he burned, though it was exhilarating, it was also a little sad. His eyes flickered, and his flung-about arms were tethered to wires. Of course, the wires enabled his hands to move, but it had a sinister look - it was as if he was chained and helpless as the fireworks lit up his insides. Eep!

Despite all the Gloom from the high school, I was back there that very next day (Friday). This, however, was under very different circumstances: I was a guest presenter for the Anatomy & Physiology class! Ah, how fun. (This is what happens when you go to a teacher begging for a dissection kit) In between mini-lectures about the hypothalamus and negative feedback loops, I showed them the different lobes of the sheep's brain and how to perform a midsagittal cut.
It was ideal! Because I had to teach the material, I had no time to be fussy or messy or half-attentive. I was well-prepared and didn't have any time to feel disgusted or sentimental. An attentive, passionate high school class has some of the best energy in the world, and I was privy to surf on it on Friday afternoon. 
This was an action shot as I was setting up for the demonstration. I hope you appreciate that I have spared you the actual dissection pictures.

The weekend has been a delightful whirlwind of Fiestas (YES VEGETARIAN Navajo Taco), the movies, curtain rod installation and other home improvement, homeworking, delectable walks and conversation, and even some fabulous cooktime. Lyly and I created this delicious layered nacho confection (replete with homemade chips), and she christened it Blue Corn Nachagna. It's pretty dang delectable.

Over and out ~

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