Friday, August 02, 2019

Tales from the Half Room

It's interesting to read about how there's still lead paint in 900 classrooms. Of course, that's ridiculous and disgraceful in 2019. I don't think a lot of people understand what city schools are really like. When did we get rid of the last coal furnace? Aren't we still burning oil that's unhealthy, oil that you wouldn't have in your home?

I work in one of the very best schools in the city. If I'm not mistaken, we're the most-requested school as well. (This, of course, is because we have the smartest and best-looking ESL teachers.) That has a good side and bad. While I'd send my own kid there, it's the most overcrowded school I know of. The facility could certainly be cleaner. It used to be, in fact. I believe we now have a reduced custodial staff, and that explains part of it.

A by-product of being the most overcrowded school in the city is that few, if any, of us have our own classrooms. Another is, in administration's zeal to create new space, they create classrooms that are inadequate. For me, the half classrooms are awful. I requested the trailers for 12 years to avoid them. My supervisor took me out one year when I told her I'd spend the rest of my career there. She has this perverse streak of needing to prove me wrong when I make pessimistic or cynical statements. Nonetheless, three years later I was back where I never wanted to be again.

This time, we had tables. Kids sat four to a table. That's good as far as Danielson goes. Kids tend to chat with one another. It also can provide opportunities for them to practice English, assuming I can seat them cleverly enough. But it makes testing a challenge. To face that challenge, my supervisor bought big cardboard dividers.  They aren't perfect, but they reduce the challenge of having cheating as a veritable national pastime.

The message above comes from a custodial employee tasked with cleaning that half classroom. It was the second such message I'd seen. The first, I erased. I'm not subordinate to custodians, and my students aren't either. I don't think my students left a whole lot of garbage lying around, and I have no idea what went on with the three of four teachers who followed me.

This custodian bemoaned the chocolate milk that spilled on the floor. He said he needed to throw out all my dividers because they were covered with it. However, in order to fulfill his promise that we would be overrun by vermin, he did not bother cleaning the chocolate milk on the floor. I ran down to the principal's office at 7 AM screaming bloody murder. I had, in fact, a quiz planned for that morning, and without the dividers I was screwed. The principal was very accommodating, locating other dividers for me.

I tell my students to throw away their garbage, always, and if they don't, there are consequences. But every teacher has seen a message like this from someone. Maybe there's a sign in the bathroom saying you abused the paper towels so you won't be getting any more. Maybe there's a note, as condescending as this one, bemoaning the condition in which you left something. Maybe there are thousands of other people who resent having to do their jobs, and don't understand if kids stopped making messes, no one would need to hire them to clean up after them.

This is a small picture of the mountain of absurdities that every teacher climbs each and every day. Our students are right there, forging that mountain with us. Bill de Blasio runs around the country asking to be President, but he's barely lifted a finger to address it.

I'm not at all surprised we still have 900 classrooms with lead paint. What would surprise me would be if anyone at City Hall had the remotest notion of the nonsense we plow our way through each and every day of our working lives.
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