Every Wednesday I visit Mendez High School in Boyle Heights near downtown LA. I volunteer as a college counselor for College Match LA. The school is named after the couple who, in 1946, sued for equal education for Mexican children and won.
View of downtown from in front of the College Center area where students go to get help with college applications, learn from presentations by admissions officers from different colleges, and work on college and financial aid applications.
Thanks to the two guys sitting here chatting for giving me permission to take this photo.
Sometimes a teacher’s work seems to never end and, honestly, it keeps me from posting here as often as I might like. At the same time, it provides me with endless joy and entertainment. The last couple of days brought lots of laughter.
I teach 8th – junior English and Spanish 1 and 2. This past Friday, Spanish 1 class became the site for lots of laughter. We were practicing translating sentences from English to Spanish. To date they have learned to say what they like, sentences about the weather, write about time, and to use the two “to be” verbs used in Spanish among other things. Somehow in the process of describing a person using a variety of adjectives they have been taught, one of the students blurted out, ” I think old people are ugly.” I said, “So you think I am ugly?” This caused a minor uproar with laughter and indignation. In an attempt to make the situation better, he continued, “No, I mean people over 60.” I repeated, “So you think I am ugly?” By this time everyone was laughing, including me, protesting his attitude. He started to try to wriggle out of that one when I pointed out that it might be better if he kept quiet. He started to say something about wrinkles but that got shut down by the other students.
Just before all this, his younger brother came into the classroom. He is the student who wrote a page-long poem about my hair last year. He said to his brother, “What is wrong with you? She is beautiful.” Then walked out of the room.
By this time everyone was laughing and talking except the student who made the original remark about old people and a few were shouting at him about his awful attitude. By the way, in case you do not know, the word for ugly in Spanish is feo or fea, depending on whether you are describing a male or female.
This weekend I read 50 or so book reports. One of them included this statement in response to the question, “What did you learn from this book?” “I learned it is sometimes fun to be bad.” The student was referring to the book, “Tom Sawyer.”
Recently, my students read a poem where the eggs in a carton expressed terror at being removed by human hands and a Pablo Neruda poem about his socks–hand made, blue wool with a golden thread running through them. Their assignment was to also write a 20 line poem about something ordinary which they love or appreciate. One student wrote about my hair.
Monday I went to my new job, finished decorating my new room with a few posters, a giant puma drawing from one of my former students, and an old National Geographic photo of a giant redwood tree with several men stationed at varying heights. This year I will be teaching English Language Arts to grades 7-10, a writing class, and Spanish 1 and 2. The 7th and 8th graders will be a new experience. However, several have already come by to meet me, chat, hang out. Hard to knock that for starters. It is a nearly new building out in the country surrounded by fields and pasture with a feed lot down the road–ranching country where rodeo is a major activity.
On the east side of my classroom a giant window takes up 1/3 of the wall. A small section of the window even opens. Twice I have opened it and listened to the birds singing outside. The window sill can hold several plants because it is long and at least one foot wide. Plant shopping occurs this weekend. Students begin next week.
I was going to write a nice little poem for my blog post today but instead decided this was more important to post. As I teacher, I can verify the veracity of this post. In some ways it may be a little easier for me because I teach mostly seniors in high school who are somewhat self sufficient but many still get free or reduced lunches, some are homeless or drift from one friend to another since thrown out of their own house, some work so late they can barely stay awake in class, some self medicate because no one can afford the meds they need. Most graduate in spite of this. How? Because the school and teachers go to great lengths doing everything imaginable to help them succeed, e.g. online programs, extra time, alternative assignments. Why do I continue to teach? I love teenagers; I never have a boring day; I work hard to make a difference; I think public education is the foundation for a working republic, for this country to flourish and succeed.
A friend and I were grousing about ignorance run amok.
“Americans get their information from internet memes,” I laughed. “And in the true spirit of democracy, dullards who have never cracked a book will cancel the votes of people who actually have a clue. What could go wrong?”
“You know what the problem is?” Tim challenged. “Our country’s a mess because teachers suck.”
Although I’ve been out of the classroom for a number of years, once a teacher, always a teacher. Plus, I have family and friends still slugging it out in the trenches. I know their battles and the wounds they carry.
“Dude, do you know what teachers endure on a daily basis?” I asked Tim. I found that, no, he didn’t. I fear most Americans might be as clueless.
I emailed a former colleague (she’s two years from retirement) and asked one question: “How has education…