Imbroglio

Today as I was pursuing a social life, I got into a tiff with a young woman over the JLo Shakira issue. She is a young white woman who speaks Spanish well. She is also of the generation that has been brainwashed by people from MY generation in school. Her immediate reaction to me was NOT to listen to what I had to say but to jump to the conclusion that because I’m older, white and presumably well-off I must share the same objections with which “other” well-off white women of my age have flooded social media.

I learned about this apparently pretty hot dispute when a friend (Hispanic) shared an article written by a a Latina lambasting rich, white women who (in their turn) had lambasted Shakira and JLo for their “obscene” display at the Super Bowl. I reacted vehemently against the assumptions laid out in that article. ANY-hoo, that’s what the minor “set-to” was about today.

I have seen the performance. It’s just not my thing, though one part of it did upset me. Not because of its sexual implications but because, to me, it alluded to violence against women. HOWEVER what I tried to explain to this young woman was that the conclusion to which she’d leapt was wrong, that my big objection is to the over-generalization of any population of people.

In our racially charged world, white people are pretty much lumped into one pile by people of color. Not individuals who know each other, but the broad categories exist. I know this because I spent a good part of my adult life living in a racially mixed, lower-class neighborhood and teaching students who were most often Latino, Filipino or African/American. Just one example, one evening in an English class at an inner-city college in San Diego my students were loudly objecting to the way white stereotype blacks. I said, “Hold on a minute. Do you stereotype whites?” Their reaction was surprise. They had never thought of that. I said, “Stereotype me. I was in my early 40s.

“You drive a Mercedes,” said one young man.

“No. A Volvo station wagon because of soccer,” said another.

“You live in La Jolla,” said a young woman. “Your husband is a doctor.”

They went on in this fashion for a few minutes. They were not joking and they were sure they were correct. Then I asked, “If that’s my life, why am I here teaching night school at City College?”

“Oh you want to help minorities,” said one girl. “You might feel guilty or something.” Others nodded.

First I was surprised that they saw THEMSELVES collectively as “minorities” and me as part of a dominant class. They had fucking conferred “white privilege” on me that I didn’t even know about or claim! THEN having lived where I was part of a VERY small minority, surrounded by people who did not look like me, I’d kind of lost the ability to actively notice skin color. While in China, I’d even forgotten my own. Sure, in my class I could SEE they were all black people, but I saw them as assorted individuals with names and purposes and abilities. The group of 20 students included two Jamaicans, a woman from Nigeria and a young man from Somalia.

Mostly I was stunned that all of their conjectures were so far from the truth. It was like they had an equation, “If white, then rich.”

I said, “Ok, well, here’s my drivers license.” The address was a “barrio” not far from the college.

“You live down the street from ME?” said one guy.

“I don’t know. Do I?” He handed me his drivers license and yes, I did.

“What do you drive?” asked a girl.

“I have a used Ford Escort station wagon,” I answered.

The class broke open. We talked about how we really don’t know that much about other people and maybe stereotypes keep us from finding out about them.

That was the point I wanted to make in the imbroglio today. It’s not JUST that we have opinions. Sometimes there are reasons behind someone’s opinions that are NOT what we think they are. It was a mere coincidence that I happen to be white and objected to something related to that Super Bowl show. My most serious objection was being lumped into the category of “upset white women.” The second was that I spent most of my teaching career instructing and counseling students from Mexico and other Latin American countries. I spent a years helping my Latino students — male and female, but mostly female — contend with the challenges placed on them by their culture and the numerous ways it confounded their dreams and tore at their hearts.

The third has to do with the fact that I have been in physically abusive relationships. As far as the performance, I objected to Shakira dancing with a rope because of all the Latinas I taught who had to fight their fathers for the right to go to college, fathers who said, “You don’t need that. You’re a girl.” I objected on behalf of all the (again, Latinas, mostly) girls I taught who had abusive fathers, boyfriends or husbands, girls who came to class with their upper arms bruised, with black eyes, or swollen lips. I objected for the sake of all the Latina single mothers who worked two jobs and attended college because their husband left them, or they left their husbands for their own safety and that of their children.

I would never, ever say that Latino cultures are more violent than other cultures; I don’t think they are, but I do know that it is still difficult for Latina women to break away from the stereotype of their cultural identity, not because of white people but because of the culture itself. The word “Macho” is Spanish. Again, not to say that I think all or even most Latino men are brutes. I was physically abused in my first marriage and race was not a question.

Many of the girls and women I taught came from lower economic classes and from countries in which education was only for the privileged. Their parents weren’t educated. That alone is a challenge for the children who want an education. Many of my students had to fight for the chance to go to college, but generally the girls had to fight harder.

JLo and Shakira’s dancing was just a Super Bowl spectacle. Those women were sexy, skillful, physically strong, beautiful. I didn’t find it “obscene” or “pornographic” as my young adversary today seems to have thought I did, but what they did was not an expression of the “strength and freedom of Latina women” or any women. It was a show, nothing more.

This speech, however, is an expression of the “strength and freedom of Latina women,”

Thoughts on NOT Having to Go to School Tomorrow…

Martin Luther King day still makes me a little stressed. I woke up this morning thinking of all the things I needed to get done (basically NOTHING) then realized I’d had another teaching dream. You see, spring semester begins tomorrow. You can’t walk away from 35+ years of habit.

Spring semester was always my least favorite. The best part of it was the advent of daylight savings time which meant I no longer drove home in the dark. Spring semester was endless where fall semester was always a neatly packaged 12 week travail that slowed down gracefully after Thanksgiving. One Spring semester was 16 weeks long broken in the middle by Spring Break from which no one recovered. One year I had such denial about spring semester that I forgot to go to my first class on Tuesday. My schedule had been flipped and flopped a couple of times by THE POWERS and I forgot I had a 1 pm class, not a 2 pm class as per usual. Anything to throw those part-time teachers off balance… I showed up late, but I showed up.

In the wee hours of this morning I dreamed about setting up my Blackboard online materials without knowing my new login. This is not cool as it’s now been 6 spring semesters since the last one. I doubt I will ever recover 100% from teaching. The flame on the torch I carried so long wavered, sputtered and went out, but the memories…

I’ve learned a lot about myself as a teacher since I retired and have had the chance to look back on those years from a little distance with more knowledge of myself. When we have to earn a living, and we only have ONE marketable skill (or believe we do), we might tell ourselves we’re passionate about what we’re doing, but what we’re passionate about is having a roof over our heads and food in our mouths. Still, I loved the classroom. I enjoyed reading essays. Business Communication, when it arrived in my life and I got a handle on it, gave me the chance to learn so many skills I wouldn’t have. I learned a lot about my personality from those relentless extraverts.

The biggest thing I taught my students I was not doing myself, and that was knowing my audience. At the end of my career — for the final four or five years — I just knew I didn’t like it any more, but I didn’t know why. I did not know how tuition had gone up, the pressures on my students financially and the pressure from their families. I didn’t understand why parents were suddenly so involved. I didn’t know what was going on in lower levels, elementary and secondary school, how that was changing from something that nurtured independent thought and problem solving to test-based curricula and no recess.

I think I was also tired from teaching so much for so long. I wanted a life of my own, but I had no time or resources. Back then, in the spring of 2014, I wrote;

I don’t know how other people feel when they reach this point of life. Maybe the way I feel is universal. Maybe all teachers teach to the point at which they are no longer effective; for some, I’m sure, this would be two semesters. For me it’s been more than 35 years. I wonder if all retiring (or quitting) teachers feel like a failure, because I definitely do. I can see that — as with my writing — I’ve missed the “zeitgeist” completely and that all around me is taught, and valued, what I regard as complete bullshit. I’ve even reached the point, the moment, that I can say, “I’ve been wrong all along.”

Teaching is really about maintaining society. Writing is really about Introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion. It’s not about the expression of ideas; it’s not about learning the skill that will best serve that task uniquely every single time. It’s not about patience and discipline and the joy of discovering a thought. Helpful criticism given to students garners furious emails; students furious at themselves, students furious at me, bosses upset that I was not more “supportive” (what is not supportive about “let me know if you want to talk this over. I’ll let you revise it”?). 

I was aware how my attitude had changed, and I wrote about that, too. By the time I retired, writing textbooks were formulaic and teachers’ editions had directions as piss-ass and nit-picky as, “Now tell your students to pick up their pens…”

I now not only cringe when my students say, “But what about my body paragraphs?” I get actively infuriated. “What IF it’s not body paragraphs? What IF it’s something important you have to say?” It is not about that for them. It is about body paragraphs. They are so bonded to the five paragraph essay that they will write them even if the entire essay is 10 pages long… Five long ass meaningless meandering paragraphs. Who taught them this? Who taught them this way? I no longer understand the people I work with and I am pretty sure I don’t share their values. 

The scariest and most prescient thing I find in this old blog entry is this:

“I think the world today — in my life time — has undergone or is undergoing a revolution as cataclysmic as any in human history. We might not look at it (I don’t look at it) but people and/or their souls are dying all over the world all the time for the progress of this vague dark thing that is the future.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/01/20/rdp-monday-torch/

Boomer

I just got insulted on Twitter by being called a “Boomer.” Like I had anything to say about that? And where did that come from?

I’ll admit that, overall, I didn’t enjoy the last generation I taught very much. I didn’t “get” them and they didn’t get me. Raised in the world of “No Child Left Behind” and Obama’s equally egregious “educational” policy that focused on testing, this was a generation that grew up viewing teachers as adversaries and open questions as sadistic tricks. I left teaching 3 years before I’d planned because I no longer respected my students.

No teacher who feels that way should be in a classroom.

I’m very aware of the divide between the “young” and the “old” these days. It’s flamed by the media and in the eyes of the “young” we “boomers” are often equated with others who happened to have been born when we were — creatures such as Old 45 (known here as Offal, acronym for our fearless leader). The slam came when I agreed with Nancy Pelosi’s wise remark that the Democrats need to focus on winning the upcoming election, the presidency if possible, and seats in the Senate.

Nothing matters more. Right now the race is between Democrats competing for that slot on the ballot against Offal. When the primary circus is over, it will no longer be progressives vs. centrists. It will be Democrats vs. whatever the heck Offal is. I do not think he will be removed from office. The Repubs are viewing his selling out to a foreign power as “Just the way Trump does the Presidency.”

His machine is relentless and unyielding. It is completely subjective and not responsive to the rule of law. Behavior that should have had the Repubs shocked and dismayed seems to have had no effect at all. I truly (naively) expected them to turn around and say, “Offal, you can’t do that. That’s a crime. That’s a felony. That’s being a traitor.” But no. Politics trumped (ha ha) ethics. Whomever the Dems end up with will have to defeat Trump; they will have to get the Electoral College votes. Pelosi is completely right.

Pelosi made the point that what works in San Francisco won’t work in Michigan but what works in Michigan will work in San Francisco. Her focus there was workers rights. She was flamed by the young as being “over” and a closet Republican. She is making a case for strategy which is the right direction for any underdog.

What many young people don’t seem to understand is that 1) none of the progressive agenda can or will happen as long as Offal is in office; 2) once he is out of office and a transfer of power is made, the damage he’s caused will have to be repaired; 3) THEN the government can focus on the progressive agenda. None of this “boomer” stuff obviates the progressive agenda; it just very wisely points out that that agenda will not win enough votes in many states to get the electoral college vote.

So how do I, a Boomer, feel about the key progressive questions — ie. Medicare For All, the green new dal and free college? Well, since THIS is my bully pulpit, I’ll tell you. I think the Affordable Care Act — with all its flaws — is/was meant to be a step in the direction of health care for everyone. The “green new deal”? We’ve made more progress toward green technology than any shrieking 16 year old can possibly perceive. Can we do better? We have to. I support anything that will work. As for free college? I think high school should be better. I think elementary school should be better. Once people can graduate high school and go into the work force, then we can talk about free college, but as it is, high school is graduating people who cannot do anything. In my opinion, that’s a huge problem and one I’m very familiar with. I taught what was sixth grade English back in 1964 to college students in California in 2012. Truth. Our educational system is broken and it’s not, to me, about free college. It’s about returning power to teachers, getting parents out of the teachers’ faces, about nurturing curiosity and the willingness to try (and possibly fail). It’s about an end to constant standardized testing and an end to publishers determining curricula.

As for you young people? I’m not dismissing you with a label. I suspect that you are all individuals and, as you are young individuals, you’re going to learn a lot as time goes by.

We all do.

Rage

Long long ago I was accused of having a hot temper. I was told that it wasn’t charming and would get me in trouble as I got older. I guess as a little girl, I was quickly infuriated by things. I don’t remember it that way, but I do remember being in trouble — and receiving a lot of lectures — for getting angry. My dad was a model for a short temper, but everyone just said that the “got his Irish up easily.” It wasn’t, as my mom said, such a big problem for a man, but for a woman?

I don’t know about this double standard of temper, but somewhere in all that modeling and lecturing something might have sunk in. It’s been years since I’ve lost my temper. I think what buffered it was teaching. When you are obliged to be the adult in a room filled with post-adolescents you learn patience and how to keep your emotional distance. From that distance you can see that often the stuff that pisses you off is funny.

The last time I was infuriated I got very sick. My students (some of them) posted a sign on my classroom door saying my class was cancelled. When I headed to the classroom I saw some of my students going down the steps away from the building. “What?” I said.

“Professor?” they said, “we thought class was cancelled.”

“It isn’t,” I said. In the classroom, a few students. were sitting around looking bewildered, not believing it (I always posted on BlackBoard and emailed my students if I were going to be absent). One of my student picked up his phone to text some of his classmates, a message I knew later said, “Get back here. She’s pissed.”

I was angry at them but not profoundly. It was more a matter of needing to remind them why they were there, what the policy of absences was (I didn’t care). And there was a big rock concert in the desert that weekend, and class was on a Thursday, I expected absences anyway. Their stragedy was unnecessary. I didn’t count absences against students. I figured they were adults and could make their own decisions about their lives including attending class.

I was angry at whomever had posted the sign, however. That was just WRONG because it could hurt other students, but even then I would get over it. I wanted to find those students so I could tell them they had every right to miss class, but no right to affect the decisions of their classmates. If they didn’t want to go to class, great, that was their decision but cancelling class and pretending to be me? No.

I told my boss (who, from this episode I learned was a piece of work beyond description) who asked me who did it. I said I had suspicions and told him who. They WERE on their way to the rock concert I learned from their Facebook page. He called them into his office the following week. Afterward he said to me that I had had no right to look at their Facebook page and said, “They’re good kids,” and some other stuff. He then proceeded to accuse me of all kinds of things that these students had said, all of which were untrue — that I was often late for class (NEVER), that my lessons were disorganized (NEVER) and that I didn’t know the subject I was teaching (had taught for 10 years, had published juried articles about, etc.).

I was, obviously, furious and trapped. He’d criticized me to my students and had taken their side. A good boss should have the backs of his teachers. I have never been more angry or felt more impotent.

In the middle of that night, I had my first ever asthma attack. It was so bad — and completely unfamiliar — that I was terrified. I could not breathe. These episodes didn’t stop. They went on every night for weeks. One night I really thought I was going to die. I finally went to my (incompetent) doc who threw steroid inhalers at me and then complained when I didn’t get well. More than a year later. I was diagnosed by two specialists (working as a team) with a rare pseudo-allergy called Samter’s Triad or Aspirin Exacerbated Respiratory Disease, given a bunch of meds and was finally able to breathe and taste food again.

The thing is… I don’t seem to have it any more.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/09/08/rdp-sunday-infuriate/

High Aptitude

“You need to think about where you want to go.”

“I want to be an artist.”

“Pshaw. We’re going up to Denver for you to take an aptitude test at the VA.”

“Why?”

“They won’t pay for your college if you aren’t going in a direction that makes sense according to their test.”

“What? Those tests are bogus.” (Actually they are not but at 18 I knew more than anyone else had ever known anywhere at any time.)

Drive, drive, drive. Park. Go in. Sit down. Take multiple choice “test”. Wait for scores. Scores come out. Lowest, office work and food service. Highest, forest ranger. Semi-high — in order — creative work, news reporter, writer, lawyer, newscaster, teacher.

“Miss Kennedy,” says the counselor, “you have a lot of possibilities. You need to find the right direction. The VA will pay for any of these majors.” The list says “Journalism, English, education.”

Nowhere does it say Forest Ranger.

Over the years I sent a lot of students to get that vey same aptitude test — the Strong Interest Inventory. I usually sent them when they confided to me they didn’t want to major in business or engineering or something that their parents had set them on. Sometimes they were REALLY in the wrong major. Sometimes they needed confirmation they were in the right major. Sometimes they said the test was like a horoscope. For a while I argued with them, then I just said, “You’re right. You fill in hundreds of questions about what you like and do not like in order to get your zodiac sign.”

But what no one, no counselor, aptitude test, mom or dad can tell anyone is what lies ahead in life, where the turning points are, or that life is a lot more than whatever your job turns out to be. The best aptitude to have is one for patience combined with a sense of humor. There’s no test for that, as far as I know, other than life itself.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/06/07/rdp-friday-directional/

Christmas Concert

Yesterday my friend and I went to hear Christmas music performed by the Valley Community Chorus and accompanied by the San Luis Valley Community Band. The event was held at Sacred Heart Church in Alamosa, a beautiful hybrid between Romanesque and Gothic in style, patterned on the prevailing style of mission churches in this part of the West. It has wonderful acoustics. The community to which the chorus sang and the band played — and from which they draw for members — is as a big as Connecticut with a population around 60,000. There’s a lot of driving involved for some of them.

My friend and I are both retired teachers. It’s pretty obvious, I think. Strangers have said, “You must be retired teachers.” I don’t know how they knew that (I think I’m a punk rocker, yes I am) but as I looked around me yesterday, at the listeners and the performers, I reached the same conclusion. A lot of retired teachers. One giveaway was the prevalence of Christmas sweaters of a certain style. 

At one point in the concert, the director (who, I assume, is also a teacher) asked, “How many of our choir and band developed their love of music in public school?”

Most of the participants raised their hands. I started to clap loudly, and there followed a ripple then a roar of applause. I might never want to teach anyone anything again as long as I live and regret that I didn’t stay with Head Ski, get free skis and do marketing, but damn. Without schools? We would all miss out on what matters most in life — and that’s not our job. It’s what the band leader referred to as our “avocations.”

The high school in my town takes its band very seriously and the band wins prizes. There’s a big sign on the east end of town listing all the times the band won best in state. Since the high school is two blocks from my house, I get to hear them practice marching for parades. I love it. I’m proud of them. I get goosebumps when I see them going up and down the streets trying to keep in time and walk simultaneously. It’s the teacher in me. I look at youth in the act of aspiring and I’m moved.

Yesterday I looked at the retired teachers all around me, and I thought, “We never fully drop that torch. We always believe in it,” and I was moved. 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/12/10/rdp-monday-ripple/

Bad Teacher

I’ve been cleaning out files on my computer (nothing to write at the moment) I found this little essay I wrote in 2012 or so. Cracked me up and also reminded me how I got to Monte Vista. It took a couple of years but…

***

Sitting in an empty classroom waiting for my class to start, writing in a blog no one reads but me (that’s OK) Driving into school today I thought about how hard it is to teach anyone anything and how much has to be caught up before the students of today are ready to take the ball forward. It’s really too much. It’s all I can do with some of my English class students not to write, simply, “Stupid.”

The problem remains the selling of higher education and the absolute abyss that is secondary education plus the influx of international students whose English ability is poor. Students go to university so they can get jobs afterwards doing things like managing fast food restaurants and rental car agencies. These are skills no one should need university — or even college — to learn.

It’s not my fault they haven’t been taught or that they chose not to learn. This is a fact and yet I’ve taken it upon myself to rectify that. My bosses expect that of me, too. I’m relied upon to hold up my end of the bargain even though it is getting more and more difficult all the time. Students can’t even tell when they are reading something that should be taken literally and something that should be — obviously — a joke. Part of it is that for many (more all the time) English is not their first language, but as all languages have jokes, irony, hyperbole, metaphor they should be able to imagine that English would, too.

And, there’s the Internet. On the Internet — even and/or especially the news — people “choose” the reality they want to inform themselves about. They “choose” the point of view and they “read” with their mouths open, waiting to say their thing. They do not read to find out what other people think. They do not read to learn what the opposing view has as evidence or to learn anything about the argument. They read to “react” to “rant” to “like.” That I will attempt to teach them to read a short essay by someone and find out what the WRITER has to say, discuss WHAT CHOICES the writer made in organizing the essay or the language in which it’s written, none of that has as much currency compared to the students’ “like” “agree” “disagree.” These fuckers will like, agree and disagree without even knowing what the person says. That’s what I contended with today. Some stupid fucking housewife very openly “disagreed” with something she had read with 100% bias and 0% curiosity. When I asked her what she disagreed with, she said, “Everything.”

I followed this with, “What does the essay SAY?” she responded with, “I didn’t read it. I know what writers like that think and I disagree.”

As I attempted to show the class how to write an essay to a writing prompt, by showing how I would write the essay, the woman didn’t like MY perspective either (though the prompt is all about the individual writer’s perspective). She interrupted me and challenged me not from a position of enlightened awareness, but from the same abyss of ignorance that leads people to vote for Sarah Palin because she’s a hockey mom and knocks people like me because we’re educated.

Then I have to argue with a student about an essay (as I’m offering her one-on-one help because she failed a writing assessment necessary for graduation). Finally I say, “Here’s the thing. I’m not your teacher. I’m ‘Random Reader’ and this does not make any sense to me at all. As Random Reader, I’ll stop reading right here.” She was shocked. Imagine! A TEACHER (the martyr of the world) saying, “If I didn’t have to, I wouldn’t read it.”

Late homework. “Here’s my homework.”

“I don’t accept late homework. The syllabus is very clear on this point.”

“But I typed it.” (And how, I wonder, in this day and age, is THAT anything exceptional? You want to be taken seriously by a teacher, fucking TYPE your work and, guess what? It’s saved on your computer so it won’t be LOST, stupid.)

“Well, here’s the deal. That was supposed to be posted on Blackboard four days ago. I don’t read late work. I have 200 students and I must organize my life so I can teach all of them.”

“That isn’t fair.”

I think, “No, cunt, what’s NOT fair is you thinking your late work is important to ME. Your work should be so important to YOU that you turn it in EARLY, get help from me, revise it and get an A.”

Not having Internet for an online class. “Professor, I haven’t done any homework because I don’t have Internet at my house.”

“Well, you know this is an online class. You need to get to the library or a school computer lab.”

“I can’t do that. I have a job. How am I supposed to do that?”

“I guess you’re going to fail,” I say, “unless you figure that out.”

Signing up for a class does not equal taking a class.

The other day, as I drove to school I thought of just teaching to the quizzes and not trying to teach in any more profound sense than that. “Here are the answers. Go take the quiz.” It would be much less tiring OR I can do like some colleagues do and say, “Here is the exam. Ooops! Fooled you! You all fail but OK I’ll curve your grades up to C.”

So I don’t know. I’m not in love with this any more. I was in love with it for a long time, but now I need to stop. I don’t know how I can. One more semester after this one if I don’t self-destruct. I remember Dr. Richardson back in 1984 at my and Jim’s house for dinner. A student called me. I talked with the student for a few minutes. Afterwards I said, “Students are great.” Dr. Richardson said, “Students are awful.” I said, “Seriously?” He said, “You’ll find out. Teach long enough and you’ll get there.” Sad to say, I have found out. I taught long enough.

Michael J. Preston (reprise)

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/04/rdp-sunday-mentor/

***

This blog post was originally published some 3 years ago. A person only has so many mentors. I’ve had three actual living people as mentors along with various and sundry dead people. There’s a difference between mentor and hero, but the line is kind of fuzzy, especially with dead mentors.

My First Time

When I graduated from the University of Colorado in 1974 with a BA in English, I had the idea that the world had been waiting just for that moment, and all I had to do was walk into the local newspaper office — the Daily Camera — and say, “I’m here, the reporter of your dreams.”

I’d worked on college papers, been the editorial editor of one (a column in that paper got me thrown out of that school but a good journalist doesn’t retract a valid opinion, right?), had articles published in the university paper, had even had a letter published in a national magazine. I was obviously awesome.

“Can you type?” they asked me at the Daily Camera.

What did that have to do with being a reporter?

“Before we talk to you, you have to take a typing test.” The bar was low, 35 wpm, but I failed.

“Sorry, sweet cheeks,” they said and sent me packing. I think the door might have hit my butt on the way out.

But I needed a job. I was married to a student, and half our income vanished when I graduated. I got a job on the line at the Head Ski factory in Boulder. It paid $5.85/hour and we were (obviously) rolling in it.

Time passed. My husband graduated. We moved to Denver. He got a good job. I decided to go to grad school. I was lost, and I had a good project for a thesis so why not? But until school started, I was learning the meaning of “ennui.”

I responded to an ad in The Denver Post for volunteer tutors at a new program — The Adult Education Tutorial Program — that had been started by a nun and was held in an old red, sandstone church a few blocks away from my house, in the Highland Park area of Denver that was — back then — considered a semi-slum.

I’d never taught anybody anything. I had a lingering dislike for teachers and teaching was for losers, not incipient famous writers such as myself. Still, it was something to do until school started.

I walked to the church, went down the stairs, opened the door and took a deep breath. My palms were sweaty and my heart was pounding. What was I doing?

“Martha? I’m Sister Mary Augustine. Thank you so much for joining us. The program is new, but we think for some adults who want to go back to school but are afraid, tutoring just might work. Here’s some paperwork for you to fill out. Your student will be here at 10:30. Our sessions are an hour long.”

I met my student, a Hispanic man in his thirties named Ramón Hurtado. He lived all the way out in Fort Lupton, back then an agricultural community. I spoke a little Spanish and he spoke a high level of survival English. I asked him why he’d come to tutoring. He explained that his little girl was now in second grade, and she knew that when he read her bedtime stories, he wasn’t reading the words on the page. He was ashamed. “I didn’t go to school much,” he said. “I didn’t like it. I liked working with my family in the fields.” They had been migrant workers. “I could make money, too, and that was good.” He smiled. “But now I wish I went to school.”

We had to start at the alphabet.

We met twice a week and Ramón learned fast. He had that magical quality — internal motivation — and he had a sense of humor about himself. After three months, he was reading at a third-grade level, a little ahead of his daughter. I thought a good way to end our “class” would be for us to go to the library six blocks away and get him a library card. He was so excited to have a library card! He checked out two books to read to his little girl. He hadn’t told her he couldn’t read or that he was going to school. It was his secret.

When we met for our last class meeting, he was ecstatic. He’d read her both stories.

Nothing in my life had ever made me so deeply and completely happy. My experience with Ramón showed me that I was a teacher, not a newspaper reporter. When I started grad school, I was most excited about my job as a Teaching Assistant, and I continued volunteering at the Adult Education Tutorial program. It was the beginning of my career in teaching, a career that made me happy for more than thirty-five years.

Oh and now I type 100 wpm. 🙂

Once Upon a Time in a Classroom, Far, Far Away

“Panoply”  makes my teeth itch. It’s an English teacher word (not its fault; I’m not blaming it), one of those that kids learn in high school as they develop their vocabulary so they can write longer more descriptive essays. Unfortunately, as a college writing teacher, it was my job to unteach them and it wasn’t always easy. Lots of students felt betrayed. “But my high school English teacher said…” I tried to explain it as the way a giant amorphous gaseous unfocused section of the universe could collapse into a singularity of immense gravity and power, smaller and more intense.

“Panoply” goes along with “plethora.” Back in the day, when I saw either of these words little worms crawled under the skin on my arm. I knew what was ahead of me.

So who were these kids? Mostly they were kids who thought using big words (that they never heard in real life) would impress their teacher. In their mind, “English teachers like these words. If I use these words, she will like me and I will get a better grade.” That smarmy, unctuous little creature didn’t get it.

“Why didn’t I get an A? I always got A’s on my English papers in high school.”

“Well, Lamont, you didn’t follow directions. This isn’t supposed to be an argumentative essay. It’s supposed to be an observation of a place in nature. I gave you a handout. All you had to do was fill it in as you looked around.”

“You never said that.”

“OK, that’s not a conversation I’m having, Lamont. If you look at this panoply of papers here, done by your classmates, you’ll see that everyone did the assignment except you. You tell me what that means, ‘K?”

“‘Panoply‘?”

“Lamont, you want a chance to do this assignment right? You don’t deserve it, but I’ll give it to you.” I didn’t say, “Because I’m the all-powerful deity in charge of this room for one hour three times a week and from my high promontory, I can make all things new again.” It was a PR stunt. A kid like this didn’t deserve a second chance, but if I gave it to him, it would speak well of me. It might (often did) turn into a teaching opportunity for a skill more important than writing. He might learn that his homework is for HIM not for ME.

“Really?”

“Yeah, really. I know you know what the assignment is. It’s on the syllabus, it’s on the handout I gave you.”

“Uh, I never got the handout.”

“How’d that happen?”

“Uh, I wasn’t here.”

“Awright. Here you go. Bring your paper Monday. You’ll lose a few points, but if you don’t do this project, a lot of the stuff in class won’t make sense, OK?”

“Thanks, professor.”

I had an immense panoply of these kids. An entire plethora.

 

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/23/rdp-for-sunday-panoply/