Drinking the Kool-Aid

The countdown until I begin teaching in tornado alley is currently at two months.  Two whole months before stress and mayhem ensue.   Good stress, though.  And good mayhem.  A raging cyclone for educational justice.

I am not yet technically–in fact, I would say I am in no way yet a teacher.   But Teach For America started seeping into my brain long ago.  Not even there yet, and I am way past converted and well into evangelical about the cause.  I’m sure that was their master plan, though.  Since November my life has been punctuated with articles on  ‘teaching as leadership’ and ‘standards-based education’, videos about classroom management, and blogs from real ‘TFA CMs” teaching in places like South Dakota and Mississippi.  And it wasn’t thirty minutes after I learned I got into TFA that I already felt like a teacher.

Even when I’m not thinking about teaching, I’m thinking about it.  Some nights I can’t sleep because in my head I’m teaching English.  Pre-disillusionment is fun, is it not?  I expect hallways full of sunshine and roses.  I expect some cross between The Dead Poet’s Society and Sister Act.

Be all that you can be, my children.

This weekend I was lucky enough to reconnect with my high school mentor and former theatre coach, Mrs. Markano.  We spent Sunday afternoon at her kitchen table, eating grilled cheese sandwiches with her kids and talking teaching, tête-à-tête. Though she’s been teaching for years and years, she is in no way jaded about her profession.   She uses phrases like “God made me a teacher so that I could…” and is more than open to learning new things, even from lowly, semi-indoctrinated me.  Teaching is a calling for a small and effective few, and she most definitely has that virus.

For nearly six hours we talked shop, going over philosophies about teaching and hashing out all these problems that have surfaced at Arrowhead in recent years.  There’s one teacher who won’t assign papers longer than one page because she doesn’t want to grade them; that’s one example.  Even in a top-performing school like that, kids get left behind.

We have big dreams now about setting up some sort of relationship between our two schools–maybe having my kids write monologues for her Theatre Arts kids to perform or something.  Something to make both groups aware of the other’s existence and to start seeing each other as creative peers as well.  Lord knows years ago, when I was basically getting a bachelor’s in English Lit at Arrowhead, I had no idea that there even was an achievement gap.

Monday I observed Mrs. M in action back at AHS.  I won’t bore you with all my scribbles, but I left thinking about how Arrowhead kids, even if they skip the month of November and consistently sleep through class, are going to be further ahead than so many of my future students.  Achievement is just the status quo there.

In Mrs. M’s room there is also a sense of openness and informality and creativity that inspires a large number of them to care about the subject.  I hope to inspire some of that as well, only with about ten times the amount of urgency.  We have a lot to get done if we want to catch up to those ‘Burbian Brats.  ‘Fo realz.

Arrowhead University

Back in Madison tonight, working second shift at the hotel like usual, I got some more good teacher training, in fact.  We’ve got a few families living long-term whose kids hang out in the lobby these days.  They’re loud, they’re running around–they’re kids, basically, and they drive me nuts.  Yes, I’m the troll who keeps watch over the lobby, and today I’d had enough.  I stood up, told them this would not be happening any more, and sent them on their way.  Boom.  The end.

Two hours later, one of the dads comes up to the desk–and he is livid.  He rips me a new one about how no one yells at his kids but him and how they can be as loud as they want in the lobby and it’s not my place to stop them.

Obviously, I was furious.  Of course it’s my job to stop them if they’re tearing up my lobby.  Grrrr.  He walked away, and I stood there, counting to ten: 1.. 2……. 1…. 5……1… 2… 3………..1…

I was really freaking mad.  Which is saying something, because after a year in the hospitality industry, I have a mighty thick skin.

So I called my boss.  I figured, the only thing worse than getting my hand slapped by el jerko is spending a whole night angry.  So I called Mike, who I knew would back me up because he is awesome, and I explained things to him.

“I’ll take care of it,” he said.

Half an hour later, el jerko and his wife come down to the desk, and he looks distraught.  Now, I’ve known these people for a year now, so I was all for it when he suggested we three go into the break room and talk it out.  And you know what?  Sitting at that table was revelatory.  I have spent the last year toeing the party line from behind a desk, learning to let everything roll off me without feeling any sort of emotion, and mastering the fine art of smiling in the face of blatant disrespect.  Now here we were, sitting down together.  A hotel issue had become personal.  We were equals.

He apologized, first of all.  He explained his side and apologized profusely.  Then I shared my side.  Five minutes later everything was solved.

The whole time I was thinking–this is such good experience for me.  For the past year, it was always crazy customers coming up, belittling me, and then of course I would handle the issue gracefully without bending and scraping and came off feeling superior to them in the end.   Customer service is about power play and obligation and, eventually, about hating everyone who walks up to the desk.

But sitting down with parents to talk about the kids is an entirely different game, even in this context.  Your goals are the same.  At the desk, your goal is to get what you want and mine is to get you the heck away from me.  In this case though, we all want the kids to be happy without the death of peace in the lobby.

So for a minute I had to stop seeing these two people as “the conservative southern Baptist interracial poor couple who pretend to be friendly but just want to convert you and always call ahead to see if we have towels because they are too lazy to walk fifteen feet and come get them.”  At the table, they were “the family who, though I am entirely different from them and am in fact rather repulsed by their values, I have to respect because they obviously care about their kids.”

My Aesopian conclusion is simply that it is good to sit down and see both sides.  Back here behind the desk of course I’ve returned to loathing y’all.  But I was so pumped for a while there.  I was reminded of the kick I used to get stage managing, restoring peace and order as I walked along.  This is something I am good at.  I gave up on theatre because the stress wasn’t worth the cause to me.  But is there a better cause than the one I am about to begin?  Seriously dude, I can’t wait to start chipping away at inequality, sitting down as equals with people different from me but with whom, for a minute at least, I share a serious mutual respect.


~ by Rachael on March 29, 2011.

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