Sunday, October 20, 2013

Our Fearless Leader

 This, in more of a Pilgrim's Progress sort of way, is what my 2nd grade teacher looked like. Even for a rule follower like myself, Mrs. Roach could be and was frequently terrifying.

A stern, pale, and skull-faced woman of late middle age who pulled her hair back in a no-nonsense bun, my teacher wore what were commonly referred to as "cat eye" glasses and her mouth was a horizontal slash of red, courtesy of the House of Avon. She wore dresses with slips underneath, silk hose and high heels with pointy toes. Every single day.  Mrs. Roach pulling her Pontiac into the teacher's parking lot in a pair of stretch pants would have have been no less shocking than discovering an aproned minotaur in a hairnet serving up tater tots in the cafeteria on Hamburger Day.

When it was time for math, you did not ask why and then pretend to lose your pencil. You had at least five other Eberhard Fabers (always sharpened) in the "side pocket" of your desk which you lined with a brown paper towel so that pencils and crayons didn't fall through the holes. When it was time for handwriting, you did not cleverly substitute the capital "S" in your last name with a treble clef  (even though they sort of looked the same) unless you wanted it circled in red pen with a note to erase and do it over. When it was time to read aloud, you did so in hopes of hearing a "Nicely done!" before she selected another victim student.  That was high praise enough. We didn't need or expect a 21 gun salute and an application to MENSA.

When accused of chewing gum in her class you did not roll your eyes and say, "I don't HAVE any gum" in an exasperated tone which--although-- technically true because you were chewing something, it wasn't gum. It was Captain Crunch. Because you didn't have breakfast that morning (As if that was somehow her problem or responsibility. But go ahead and suggest to her that it was her responsibility and then wait for the Apocalypse.) Better yet, have your parent do it. Same result.

You did not try to be the class clown by burping words to the Pledge of Allegiance or ask her if this was her "real hair" or if she dyed it.  When she asked for your homework you did not fix her with a smarmy grin and tell her you didn't do it because "I was busy".  The only notes you wrote in class had damn well better be from the assignment on "How to Write a Letter To a Friend" and not to your actual friend who had a different teacher altogether who wouldn't have cared if that same friend spent a brief moment of class time reading your synopsis of last night's episode of "The Monkees".

If you were told to carry a sealed envelope home to your parents, you were clueless about its contents and you did not ask. It could have been a letter about a PTA matter or a request to have you publicly flogged. It mattered not because it wasn't any of your damn business because it wasn't addressed to you and hiding it for two weeks inside your copy of Encyclopedia Brown wasn't going to make it go away.  Later, your parents weren't ever going to go all Liza Minnelli crazy when questioning Mrs. Roach like she was at her own trial because you didn't bring the note home. Why?? Because that was a parenting issue and your parents--God love them--were smart enough to know it.  However, your ass would be--as they say--grass even though the note was about being a homeroom mother, you paranoid maniac.

Had the internet existed back when you were a kid, Mrs Roach would have been listed on Wikipedia as the country's seventeenth line of defense. Just ahead of the Boy Scouts.

Mrs. Roach was a teacher, not a convenient doormat to be stepped on by lazy-ass parents who expected her to offer free tutoring for class days missed because of a surprise birthday trip to Carlsbad Caverns which necessitated lying about being sick for two days so that it would be excused. She wasn't about to be trifled with or disrespected during professional development seminars by being asked to remove her teacher hat for the day and pretend to be a student learning the same shit she was already teaching in real class. One didn't tell Mrs. Roach that she would be taking and grading work from any and all children who had sufficient time to turn in their assignments but didn't do so....for five weeks.

And if someone told her that she would be expected to tiptoe around a mentally ill student who hears voices that tell her to do bad things and if said student was demonstrating those bad things in class and began to otherwise act strangely like having a conversation with her own shoe, and that she--Mrs. Roach-- was required to halt the educational process for everyone else in the class, hit the panic button on the wall and then step ALONE(?) into the hall with said mentally ill student and wait until help came? Well...Mrs. Roach would have poured those people a big old glass of OH HELL NO and stood calmly while they drank it down with a side of KISS MY ASS cookies. Guaranteed Mrs. Roach did not have to aid her nightly sleep with  five melatonin and a martini chaser because even though she was required to dress like June Cleaver and she was paid like crap and the moral turpitude clause in her contract prohibited her from being seen buying or consuming alcohol, she was respected. By everyone. Or they did a really good job at pretending. Period.

It's not hard to see why my colleagues and I look wistfully into the rearview mirror and sigh before pouring ourselves another stiff drink. Even on a good day, I'm forced to behave less like Mrs. Roach and more like the friendless kid who converses with her sandwich. We live in an era where teachers are everyone's whipping boy and--like my friend Nance says, no one's boss. I live for the days when I can say "no" or "yes" and actually be granted permission to follow through on my own decisions. Sure, I'm allowed to wear pants, but only in the literal sense. Never in the figurative.

But I can hoist a glass and so I do. Here's to you, Mrs. Roach.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


1) I get bored easily and a fresh blog look can often bring me back to the keyboard. You're welcome.

2) I modeled a love for books with all of our children and--as a teacher of middle and high school English--I'm called upon to practice what I preach. Unfortunately, the demands of my job don't allow for reading anything pleasurable between the hours of  5:45 am until 6:00 pm, which are the hours when I'm most likely teaching or grading. After 6 I'm trying to eat, take in a yoga class or sleep. Today I took a "personal day" which entailed two doctor's appointments, paying bills, doing dishes, grocery shopping and attending a mid-day yoga class. Also? I read. Some. It was lovely. Because I did not go to work.

3) I love the show "Parenthood", but I don't think Kristina Braverman should run for mayor of Berkeley on the Education platform because I'm bored with that plot line, but in real life it's realistic. Want to know why? Because politicians don't know crap about schools and they only wind up making stuff worse. The only people who have any influence to move shit around are parents, which is unfortunate and the reason for that is because districts are deathly afraid of lawsuits. Want to turn on-level literacy classes into a hot stew of varying abilities/diagnoses/learning levels where only one teacher is expected to serve everyone? Ask a parent. So you say downtown hasn't addressed the broken HVAC issue at your school? Ask a parent (because you know damn well they don't care if the teachers are uncomfortable). Want to bring a visit to the modern art museum to a grinding halt because you're afraid that your baby might see a picture of a naked body? Ask a parent. I could go on...but I won't. Whining makes me tired. And I'm okay with somebody addressing the temperature controls in my classroom.

4) Growing up I watched "Room 222" on ABC and dreamed of teaching at Walt Whitman High. I never suspected that I would be teaching high school level English years later in a futuristic building where kids would never know know who Walt Whitman was were it not for their enthusiasm for Walter White aka Heisenberg.

5) I dreamed about Islamic Jihadists last night and how they were attacking random suburban neighborhoods with guns. In one dream I saw that they had killed Walter White. I really need to watch what I eat/drink before I go to bed.

6)  Turning the pages of an e-book is not the same thing as turning them in a real book. Maybe that makes me a dinosaur.

7) This year is so much better than last year as far as school goes. I have some awesome students and my teacher-peeps are wonderful. However, I've traded my wonderful former principal for one whom I don't trust and parents who "helicopter" constantly if they think their baby isn't being served as one might a reigning monarch of a European principality.

8) I am the oldest person in the English department.  In many ways it makes me smarter, but it also makes me feel self-conscious. Especially when I look in the mirror.

9) I  don't know how to end this post. Someone help me.