Friday, October 22, 2010

A Farewell Note to Michelle Rhee

Dear Ms. Rhee,

To borrow from the Beatles, “I read the news today, oh boy.” I must say; I wasn’t too surprised. What with Fenty’s loss in the primary and your sad, little talk with Vince Gray, I suppose the writing was spray painted in bold, fluorescent lettering on the walls.

Oh, there’s just so much I want to say in this farewell piece, where to begin? Let’s start with one that’s close to my heart – special education.

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Well, that’s how my letter started, but the hateful words didn’t pour onto the page the way I had thought they would. It’s as if I’ve been so detached and removed from the school system that my anger and bitterness have melted away (almost).

I was thinking how incredibly different my life is today. Well, different from the nightmare that was every day DCPS. These days, I come to work and I’m not about to vomit. I wait for my students and they are mostly respectful, compliant, and complete their work. If there’s a problem, my program director helps me solve it. It’s a far cry from the loneliness that was my first two years teaching in the DC Public School system.

I felt bad the other day on the elevator when I saw some poor public school teacher step in. I knew she was a teacher by her badge. I also knew by the wrinkled expression that she wore and couldn’t remove. She looked tired. It’s only October, Christ.

Back to my life being different…I went back to the gym this week and was running to some of my favorite tunes that I used to run to last school year. Running was always great for me on my really bad days. I would imagine someone’s face under my feet as I ran and it would make me run harder and harder until I would have a cramp in my side.

One song was particularly poignant during those runs – It was Michael and Janet Jackson’s “Scream.” This song talks about how much they are under pressure and I remember that song would always be the height of my run. I would run the fastest I could and would think about running on the face of whoever has displeased me the most that day. I would also cry during this song, feeling overwhelmed, like I might explode from stress.

I ran to that same song the other day and realized halfway through that I wasn’t crying. I wasn’t crying because I wasn’t under an insane amount of pressure. Before, I was stressed out to the max and drinking myself into oblivion. That realization this week made me almost shed tears of happiness.

So, dear neglected readers, you must be thinking…Has she made her peace? Is she beginning to romanticize that horrible experience as a public school teacher? I would say, no, but I am trying to be more objective in my posts. This may be part of the reason why my posts have been less bitter and more reflective. But stay tuned, the best is yet to come, and I will surely be writing more in November when things start to slow down at my new job. Thanks for supporting me!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

I Should Devote at Least One Entry to Fate…

When you think about people, you remember them usually for the way they made you laugh or because of their dynamic personality or maybe even a funny joke they told. I remember Fate because she had multiple personalities. On any given day, she could be the tenderhearted child who wanted your love and affection or she could unleash her satanic personality, which always meant that it was going to be a rough day.

I loved Fate though. I can’t explain it. Anyone that unstable deserves a fan club and I was her #1. She would come into class cursing and saying some of the worst things known to mankind to which I would reply, “Hi Fate, so nice to see you today.”

She was fashionable and always wore the best clothes. Her hair was always kept short because her mother hated long hair. I’d always imagine her mother holding her down to cut her hair. I feel like her mother knew that her hair couldn’t get too long. It was like a Samson thing. Her hair was her strength; the longer it was the worst she’d be.

Fate had several older brothers, all of whom she would beat up on a regular occasion. The students said the reason Fate could box was because of the fights with her brothers, all of them. Oh, did I mention her front teeth? From some fight, Fate had lost part of her front tooth and when she smiled she’d look absolutely crazy.

I’d take her home some days because she lived right near my husband’s work. One day while driving Fate home, she had asked me about the Gorillaz because their CD was playing in my car. Fate had asked about the characters and why they had cartoons on their album cover.

It was quite a fascinating conversation trying to explain how each member of the band represents themselves with a cartoon. Fate was astonished. She thought it was genius for a band to do something like this. I marveled at her awestruck look.

Some days, I think back to Fate and her wicked smile or her horrible meltdowns. She was a true artist, one who will continue to be held down and oppressed by her neighborhood, her life. Her creativity will be meted out by the horribleness that is her existence. Her artwork was fantastic and edgy, but she’ll probably never see past her front porch.

It was students like Fate that made me realize how poverty can oppress people forever. Had Fate been born to a middle class or even working class family, her creativity and artistic tendencies would have been encouraged. She would have been pushed to pursue her creative endeavors and make something of her life. Instead, she’ll continue to rot away in Southeast DC with no hope. Students like Fate make me appreciate where I came from. I was lucky to make something of myself; Fate won’t have that chance.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Jimmy’s in Jail and other rants.

My son’s locked up. If you remember from an earlier post, Jimmy is my “son” and now he’s behind bars. Drugs - it’s a long story. His mother called me crying on Monday about it and gave me all of the details. He’s also been expelled from school because the drugs were found on his person upon entering the school building.

When I heard the news, I was very sad. I felt like once again, I had failed. Is there just no way to help these kids? Is there no bringing them out of poverty and helping them attain some kind of goal, even if it’s only gainful employment doing something menial.

I always thought that the high school I worked for last year was a complete and utter joke. We were a special education school (no “regular” kids went to our school) and yet our kids were on block scheduling. Our school could have offered a trade or given the students some real skills, instead we decided to hand away diplomas that meant nothing. Please bear with my tangential writing tonight.

Block scheduling is a way for kids to earn high school credits quickly. For our school, it meant that they could earn double the high school credits given in a normal school year. So, in approximately 18 weeks a student could earn a full high school credit. It would be as though they had gone to school for the entire year.

There are many problems with block scheduling for special needs students. In a traditional high school, the students may be able to keep up with the work and actually understand and grasp the content of the material in 18 weeks. What happened in our school was, essentially we were graduating kids who couldn’t read.

Now this looks great to the powers that run the DC Public School District. Someone who works for the central office might look at the high school and remark: “Look at this special education school, they’re graduating kids! It’s a miracle. Call the presses, call Rhee! We’re revolutionizing education.” It’s a goddamn hoax and it’s all a sham.

I’m all over the place tonight. I’m sorry, I’m aware of this. Maybe it’s Jimmy or maybe it’s just the realization that I’m not superwoman, and I can’t fix every problem that each of my students has. Sometimes, I think that I just need to work harder and then things would be different. I guess you can only lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

“Re-Elect Rhee.”

This is a bumper sticker that I noticed on someone’s vehicle yesterday leaving the Giant in Columbia Heights. I hope whoever this person is, she reads my blog. Woman, you should be slapped. That bumper sticker is asinine on so many levels. First of all, Rhee wasn’t elected, idiot, she was appointed by Fenty. Clearly, if you support Rhee, you support Fenty. Naturally leading to a bumper sticker that says “Fenty” in white lettering with a green background. If I could make a Rhee bumper sticker it would read: “Punch Rhee in the face.” I’m so bitter.

I just despise people who keep losing bumper stickers on their cars. Granted, Fenty only lost about two weeks ago in primary elections, but still. A bumper sticker that says “Re-elect Rhee” should be immediately removed for not only shame, but pure stupidity. Rhee isn’t supposed to be a politician. Of course she is and I suppose no one can escape politics here.

It did warm my heart when I read in the Express that Rhee was “…near tears” after her meeting with Vincent Gray, democratic nominee for the District. The thought of anyone bringing her to tears got me giddy. It was as though someone was finally able to tear down her sociopathic fa├žade. Poor Rhee, her life’s work down the drain because of Fenty’s arrogance. Hahahaha.

Anyway, no more politics, let’s get down to business. I actually will tell you a tale about yesterday, in my new, wonderfully run small, private school for emotionally disturbed students from DCPS. We were all at lunch enjoying the Dominoes that they had delivered for the students and the staff. This is truly a great place to work.

Well, one of our favorite students, Mark, was standing up and being loud, trying to engage the teacher in conversation, as usual. He loves the attention he gets from us. But I have to hand it to the kid, he’s pretty damn funny. Anyway, one of the teachers said to him, “Man, don’t come back with that Mr. Rogers sweater on Monday.” To which Mark replies, “It’s sexy, man. I’m bringing sexy back.”

Everyone laughs at this comment. This kid is amazing. He’s quoting Justin Timberlake right after he tells us he’s going to come in on Monday with a black eye because he has to fight a group of kids that have been harassing him. Mark, where are your homies? Apparently, he rides solo, looking out for only himself. This kid is one of kind.

I look at my life today and can’t imagine that there was ever a time when I hated my job. It’s just that when you work somewhere that’s sane, it makes such a difference. Yesterday, my boss came in because we were making so much noise playing a Jeopardy review game. I didn’t get nervous at all.

Why? Because he knows I’m doing a good job. He knows that because he sees the kids engaged. He doesn’t need DCPS’s Teaching and Learning Framework to tell him that I’m a good teacher. He knows because he sees me staying late after school and coming in early in the mornings and he actually notices these things.

Our executive director makes fun of me all of the time. She says that my husband is going to divorce me because I work too much. I scoff at this remark, but it feels good to be appreciated. It’s something that I missed the two years that I taught in DC. Is this my life’s calling, teaching, that is? Probably not. In fact, some days, I’m super bummed that I’m just a teacher. But then again, with memories like Mark bringing sexy back, I don’t know. Maybe this is what I’m supposed to be doing after all.