Sunday, September 18, 2005

Last Friday

I teach in a specialized school for students with emotional/behavioral disorders within a larger school. We are two small floors in the west wing of a huge building. I have learned very quickly that everything in life (and especially everything in New York City life) is political. The administration and staff of the larger school hate our little "special" school. I do not use the word "hate" lightly. Last year I witnessed an administrator from the larger school screaming at our students "Special ed! Special ed! This is why you are special ed!" after the minor infraction of one student talking to another.

Anyhow, while the larger school somehow has working air conditioning, our little wing has been dying in the heat and humidity since school started. Finally, our principal asked the other principal if we could use a few of their classrooms until it cooled off. And, surprisingly, an offer of classroom space was extended. Room numbers were assigned, and on Friday morning I was told that my class and another class would move to room 220 after first period. I told the students about it. We were all extremely excited, and at the end of first period we packed up notebooks, workbooks, pencils, and a small dry-erase board to move to the air-conditioned haven of our dreams.

My students had excellent behavior in the line as we snaked through the halls of the larger building, slightly lost. I didn't realize we passed by room 220 twice because (a) there was no room number posted and (b) the door with a hole where a doorknob should be and no hallway-window didn't seem like the typical door to a classroom. When I finally decided that this must be the classroom, I stuck my hand into the hole and pulled the door open. I was instantly hit with a blast of heat more intense than that in my own classroom and was assaulted by the view of the room itself: a room with no windows, no air conditioning, dust rolling across like the floor like tumbleweed, and two student desks but no chairs. Within ten minutes, all of the teachers in my school realized that the principal of the larger school had graciously given us large closets to teach from.

I turned my students around and began to head back to our classroom. The students could feel my anger and frustration and proceeded to do what they do best: act on it for me. It is one of those moments as a teacher when you are painfully aware of the fact that you are supposed to be a model for how to operate in the world, but you have no idea how to respond to what has just happened. I quieted them down, told them it was cooler today than yesterday so we were going to stay in our classroom. And when we got inside the room, I assigned all my students small tasks (such as opening all the windows,) so I could fully collect myself before starting the day over.

This would be an appropriate point to begin to rant about the thoughtlessness of the larger school's administration, their continuing insistence that our students are not really children (not vocalized but spoken loudly through their actions,) and their complete lack of support and respect for the administration and staff of our school as we do the best we can in the face of dozens of daily obstacles. But I don't want to become a participant in this political push-and-pull. I took this job to focus on my students, who embody a wonderful energy, intelligence, creativity, and inquisitiveness that I would never for a second consider hiding away in a closet.

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