I remember the day that my husband and I loaded up our car and moved South. Both of us had been entangled in really bad marriages previous to one another – his dealing with a manipulative gold digger – mine dealing with an abusive control freak. His ended years before mine did, mine ended soon after my mother died, when I fled my former family home with nothing but a garbage bag with clothes in it, staying from couch-to-couch for a few weeks here and there, until I found a very, very modest apartment that I could afford on the minimum wage salary I was making, a consequence of being a stay-at-home mother for far too long to be taken seriously in the workforce.
We left Wisconsin on a hope and a dream, planning to reclaim our individual lives, planting the seed of what would become our collaborative life. We loaded our little car up with all those things we cherished – books, photos, music, a kick ass sound system, and our clothes – and hit the road for a twenty-two hour car ride, without stops, to land in New Orleans. This had been one of the most impulsive decisions I have made in my life, one necessary if I were to ever have peace from the demon that haunted my life for a decade. We stayed in a boarding house, not wanting to have an obligation to a lease for a house in a neighborhood that we knew nothing about, and shortly we moved into a house, furnishing it little-by-little, until we made it a home. When the children joined us, as planned, the rebuilding of our life was complete. A little piece of that was swept away, however, when it was ordered in Wisconsin that my youngest two would have to split time between New Orleans and Wisconsin with a father that placed a call once every few months, but who had an attorney (and his future father-in-law) that was not only of the state of Wisconsin family law committee, but also the Godfather to the Court Commissioners oldest child. Add into that equation the refusal to hear Louisiana-based testimony, and you have a situation bound to cause heartache.
We adjusted, though, my oldest daughter enjoying becoming an only child for most of the year. We got involved in her school. We laughed. We cried. We went through really hard times. We dealt with my health issues, an intrusive mother-in-law a few beads short of a full necklace, and my daughter’s Asperger Syndrome. In many ways, it has been an adventure, really starting out as a young couple, ready to conquer the world. In many ways we are still that young couple, with my husband searching for a job that utilizes his law degree, and me waiting patiently to take the Para Pro test to get a job in the RSD as a Teacher Assistant, and then, one day a teacher.
Those who know me tell me how strong I am, amazed at the things I have lived through to talk about, proud of holding my head up high, not allowing myself to be a victim or to make excuses, but accepting life for what it has been, and always holding onto hope. They have given me credit for my emotional strength, the quiet grace I hold myself in when things seem the darkest. They have admired that when life has demanded it, I have rallied and fought, winning in one way or another.
I’m not exactly sure of the answer so early this morning, as I ready my daughter to begin another day at public school, a school I wish she didn’t go to, but am thankful it is one of the better ones if she has to. I wonder if this is my failure or if it is a testament to my naive-nature, simply being happy with what I have and not longing for a whole lot more. It is an attitude instilled into me at a young age by my Irish father and my English mother, something they wanted to appear in their only American-born child, so she never forgot where she came from, so she never became like the children of their friends – spoiled and thankless, feeling entitled, forgetting the importance of family.
I sit here on the sidelines of my life this morning, after experiencing a truly traumatic event, and wonder if it is really that I am strong, or that I have done what I have needed to do to survive. Is it really that I am content with the little things, or am I merely complacent as to not have any hopes dashed to the floor when they are not realized by life, only little longings in my mind? Or perhaps I am simply thinking too much this morning, a direct consequence from experiencing a violation in the place I escaped with high hopes and dreams for a different life, a better life, a happier life and little to no sleep.
Recently, I spent an extra day volunteering in my daughter’s classroom. I arrived and nine and stayed until school dismissal, helping with the lessons of the day, explaining new vocabulary words, trying to correct bad habits like “We be doing this lesson, Mrs. M”, and generally observing. I love my time in the classroom with the kids. I really do.
That being said, while wondering the halls and inside the class, there are a few observations that I made that were disturbing to me. I know if I have observed them, others have as well. If others have observed them, why aren’t they as shocked as I am?
1. I observed teachers text messaging while walking their students down the hall, in the middle of classes, and while students waited to ask their teachers questions. This didn’t happen in the classroom I was in, as the teacher felt the same way about this as I did, however it was happening enough for me to notice and to be highly annoyed.
2. I heard one teacher share personal information with the class about one of her students. The door was open, so anyone passing by could have heard this as well. It dealt with the children confessing to abuse at home, and now the police were getting involved. This should be a good thing, right? Well, according to this teacher it is not, and she instructed her students to not tell anyone anything that happens at home because you could easily be taken away from your parents. (I. WAS. SHOCKED.)
3. I heard various teachers yelling throughout the day at their students, cutting them down, asking “What is wrong with you children?” and singling students out. I saw a few students reduced to tears, then scolded for showing any type of emotion.
4. I witnessed a mother, a school employee, come into the classroom when her son was completely out-of-line and smack him across the back of the head, telling him to answer a question, threatening that if he didn’t she would embarrass him in front of the whole class. (Granted, this child was being a discipline problem, but did that really have to happen?)
5. I witnessed a volunteer from one of the colleges disrespect the teacher during a discussion on slavery, telling the teacher that she was absolutely wrong, and that black people did have a write to be angry at the white people in the United States because we took advantage of them. The teacher was trying to explain England’s role in slavery. It should be noted that the volunteer does not come in to volunteer in class, but to serve as a reading buddy for one of the students, and is only at the class door while waiting to get the student and while bringing the student back to class.
6. I witnessed a teacher become so angry at a student that he threw a project that he made across the room, breaking it, telling the student that he was now going to get an F, when the student did amazing on the project, the teacher was just at his wit’s end for the day.
7. I witnessed the amount of supplies that teacher’s buy for their own classroom, everyday supplies, that the school does not reimburse them for.
8. I witnessed the sub par offering that RSD considers a decent hot meal for lunch. Every lunch, with the exception of two served occasionally, consists of something over white rice. Still trying to figure out if that is a regional thing or if that is a way the RSD tries to save money.
9. I witnessed four fights. Each boy trying to prove how hard he was to the other. Each boy targeting a much, much smaller kid.
10. I witnessed a social worker really get through to a kid by relating to him on his terms. I heard the whole conversation from the hallway, however, instead of meeting the kid in private where they could talk about what was really going on.
11. The granddaddy of them all, to me anyway, is when my class was getting their science homework. The workbooks were passed out, mostly because the students do not have room in their desks with all of the LEAP textbooks and workbooks they are given, and they were discussing the homework as a class. One student raised his hand and when called on, he told the teacher his workbook already had writing in it. The teacher responded, “We didn’t get new books this year, so you are just going to have to ignore their answers.”
Call me naive. Perhaps maybe I am a bit to the workings of an inner city school, but can’t they at least provide the children with workbooks each year so they can actually learn? I understand the importance of the LEAP test and what the data means for the school, but do we really want our children to fall further behind in things they should currently be learning because “We didn’t get new books this year?”
Anyway, some observations made that were odd enough to impact me for the day.