Monday, January 9

School Work

It's Doom and Gloom Monday here, aka Return to School Day, which comes quite late this year because the geniuses who run things at IPS decided that the first semester should end before vacation began, so final tests ran to December 23, when students were thinking about anything but. That sort of anal compulsiveness is the mark of far too many people who Run Things. Make it come out even! Get it done three days early! Fold it so the corners match! There's a lot of it everywhere, and education is no exception. Which, on the one hand, you'd think might not be the case. You're dealing with teenagers. Is there anything messier than teenagers, in the psychic sense, at least? On the other hand, I suppose there are plenty of people for whom the more officious teachers of their own youth were some sort of totem, in all likelihood sexualized.

I have to admit--please keep this quiet--that I probably defend teachers a bit more than their due, basically because there's been such a steady drum-beat of anti-union, the-sky-is-falling, unlettered nonsense over the past thirty years. Most any discussion that draws a crowd is sure to find at least one Right Wing Talking Point point talker who simply declares, "Public schools are failing" the way he declares that Iraq had connections to 9/11 or the media is librul. It's not long from there to the "unions prevent the best teachers from being rewarded" and the "vouchers would help the Poor" routines. If you can manage to get these people to answer questions you generally find that the last time they set foot in a public school was when they graduated, or if they happen to be parents of public school students they think their school is better than most, except there was one arrogant teacher who Just Wouldn't Listen. The single arrogant teacher is the Hook Man of educational urban legend; childless combatants often refer to the run-in a friend of their cousin had with him.

Of course, teachers are human, and some are spiteful, turf-protecting, petty tyrants. No doubt you matriculated under some. This distinguishes them somewhat from public school administrators in that, in my narrow experience at least, most of the latter are spiteful, turf-protecting, petty tyrants.

You may also be sure that most of the people who complain about teachers and unions would last about ten minutes trying to do the work themselves.

"Vacation" this time around meant moving my wife from her former classroom to one two flights above on the opposite side of the campus. It's the fourth time she's been moved in three semesters, and that doesn't count having to move everything out of the room she was in last winter break so they could work on the heating/cooling (actually bringing air conditioning to her room, only four years into the 21st century). It's an enormous amount of work. She's a pack rat, for one thing, but art teachers have to be. At least five-hundred books. Three-hundred pounds of magazines. Every sort of artists' medium, paper, easels and canvases. Materials that have been scrounged from every sort of local business in order to supplement her budget.

So why exactly was she forced to move yet again? Good question, to which the short answer is the people who run things must be seen as running them. Don't just stand there, do something that'll get you attention.

In the case of IPS this, most recently, meant signing on to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Small Schools Initiative. What IPS did, under a lame-duck superintendent, was to agree to divide every one of its high schools into "small learning communities" each with some particular career focus, on the grounds that having learning populations of 400, rather than 1600 students in one big school, would lead to more teacher-pupil interaction. It is the only large urban district to jump into this with both feet.

(None of the money, by the way, goes into the classroom. It goes to the education school at the university which oversees the project, and from there pays for "teacher training" and seminars and the like. The teacher training last year amounted to people spending meeting hours going through paperwork, for which they were paid their regular salaries. The seminar part included a trip to Vegas--during the last school year--for two of the school's administrators.)

Each community has its own dean, and each has its own section of the building. So the first thing that happened, at the end of last year, was petty squabbling over territory and an attempt to settle personal scores. My wife and the other art teacher in the Magnet program took a double hit here, because the Magnet program is not a part of this Big Scheme, and the regular art department, which is, has a couple of petty-minded individuals who hate the Magnet program for its relatively small class sizes and large space requirements.

Unlike the other teachers, who were present at the meetings and got to vote on various proposals, my wife and her cohort were shut out, represented only by the director of the Magnet program, who was not available to attend every meeting. The first room my wife was sentenced to assigned had no ventilation, despite the fact that her advanced students are working with various solvents known to the state of California to cause cancer and birth defects. And this point was made plain before the vote. She and I had to spend an evening hunting down and printing out various OSHA regulations to put a stop to that one.

Let's note at this point that her school has three administrators, a Principal and two assistants, one of whom is responsible for Buildings and Grounds. They couldn't be bothered to get involved until this thing became a big freaking pre-teen slumber party catfight of a mess. This is known in administratin' circles as "delegating authority". By the time they were forced to do their jobs it was the end of the school year. My wife had to wait three weeks before she even knew what room she was going to be in this year, which meant that our shed, her office, and the dining room housed boxes of stuff most of the summer. I'll be writing the storage costs off my taxes come next month. The Principal, whose talent runs to getting himself on the local news and finding others to blame for shit, finally reprimanded the assistant principal for the chaos in an email he conveniently accidentally sent to a wide number of people.

They've both been pink-slipped for next year, by the way, which doesn't mean they're fired, but does mean they can be moved anywhere in the system, or maybe nowhere at all.

The latest move came about because the most offensive of the regular art teachers, a woman who reportedly is universally despised, filed a grievance about the room changes, and some functionary from the Home Office came in, talked to no one, and made new assignments two weeks before the semester's end. So that's how we spent our holidays.

I did what I could to help, but a lot of the stuff requires my wife's hands-on sorting. She was putting in eight-hour days. But I was there Thursday morning in time to meet the Nemesis. She came roaring into my wife's new room, demanding to know if that was "her table" she'd spied through the window of the closed door. "It has my purple mark on it!" she declared in a voice I considered altogether improper. She hadn't seen that I was there until I started to walk in her direction. If nothing else that reduced the volume by 90%.

"I had six of those tables and now they're gone!" she continued. My wife explained that this one was hers. It should be noted that these are large pieces of furniture which had been moved by the overworked custodial staff, not boosted by my wife personally. It should also be noted, though it's probably not necessary, that there was no mark, purple or otherwise, on the thing.

It was a little awkward; I certainly didn't want to do anything which would cause my wife any difficulties down the road, and she's more than capable of handling herself, but I knew she was tired and I just didn't like this woman or her boorish behavior. So I took my sunglasses off my hat and put them on as I walked, unthreateningly, over to the two of them. I cocked my head and gave her a Vince D'Onofrio Law & Order look. And then, drawing on my years of experience and circle of college associates, I farted audibly.

She left.

Dear readers, more money is thrown away on Big Schemes than is lost to all the union-supported goldbricking and internet time wasting of every wage earner throughout the globe. We need more people who care, more who know what they're talking about, and more who tighten nuts and bolts, and a lot fewer who dream up big ideas, in Washington or locally. If you know a good teacher and have the opportunity, give her a hug today. I know I will.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, we in this country value education, but we value "administration" a heck of a lot more.

Anyway, hug your wife for me (since I may not come in contact with any good teachers personally today). And kudos to you for farting on her behalf. You are a good husband (and a gentleman and a scholar).

Anonymous said...

Not the most erudite of input on your part, but certainly a nice, terse choice. I will have to remember to keep a copy in my own arsenal of administrative tools.

Anonymous said...

A University of Chicago professor once wrote that the existence of administrators is the best argument yet against cloning.

isabelita said...

Excellent job, doghouse! I have been a teacher myself for years, most recently an art teacher in a private school. Let me tell you, there are control freak tyrants in ALL forms of education, including small private schools still run by the individuals who started them.
Of course, one good thing about having a queen bee in charge of your school is, no layers of administration; that is also the terror and horror of it, if it goes awry.
Your wife is fortunate to be able to even teach art in the eduaction climate out there these days. I shan't get started on what we all know Bush et al want to do to public education, but of course it involves swirling down the bathtub drain, just like "the government."

Anonymous said...

You did not!


Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, I know a *lot* of good teachers.
Most too far away for hugs, but pats on the back are always welcome, it seems.

Anonymous said...

Doghouse, I got a book "The History of Farting" for every man on our Christmas list this year. There are many teachers (some of whom are notorious farters) in our families. Based on these two facts, you and I may be related.

eRobin said...

"It has my purple mark on it!" she declared in a voice I considered altogether improper.

How does anyone say that with a straight face or without checking into an asylum straight away? It has my purple mark on it! My PURPLE MARK!!!