Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Here we go

Staff meetings at Booker T. this morning--what a mess! Of course I'm not on the payroll, my mentor teacher had no forewarning that she had an intern, and the acting principal had no clue either what was going on.

About 70 people were crammed into a meeting room, many of them great brontosauri teachers barely mobile, with bags of Funyans and Cheetos spilling from their purses and oral insulin tabs and asthma meds clutched in their fists. There was a huddled and focused group of Teach for America volunteers, with their clipboards, their folders, and their lanyards decorated with keys, mace, whistles, sticker dispensers, and tiny fabric banners with life-affirming slogans about success stitched upon them. There were a half-dozen teachers from the Philippines (several of whom were unsubtly husband-hunting), and a contingent of teachers from rural African schools turned loose on the tough streets of Baltimore.

I had fun people-watching. I noted a group of hipsters obviously too cool for school, I saw several cynical unshaved and obviously hungover faculty rueing their final days of freedom, I noted with happiness that there are several very sexy women on the faculty.

The acting principal is not particularly organized, but she has an office assistant who is no-nonsense and who obviously wields the true authority in the building. She's not a large woman by any means but she has corn-row braids and a booming voice and she carries herself like a soldier. I made sure to befriend her immediately, and made some jokes that had her laughing so hard she put her head on my arm.

The armed and ferocious Officers Black and Wheeler explained to us that we need to remember where we are: "Don't leave anything visible in your car. ANYTHING. People will break into your car if they see coins, because even fifty cents is worth stealing. Don't walk alone to the parking lot in the dark either before school or in the evenings. There have been assaults and shootings around the campus. We are police officers. We are not baby sitters. Do not call us to your room if a student refuses to remove his hat." blah-blah.

I met a PhD in physics from Montana who is earning her MA in education from JHU. I met a math teacher from western NY state. I met a woman who teaches science and special ed and who transferred to Booker T. from a much more dangerous school in SoWeBo. As I soaped up in the bathroom during a break, an old worn-out teacher told me: "The soap dispenser and towel dispenser are brand new. They'll be torn off the wall Monday and won't be replaced until next August. Enjoy washing your hands for the last time in this restroom."

I saw the room where I'll be teaching with my mentor Lukie (a shortened and simplified version of her multisyllabic Eastern European name). It's a nice room in a turret in a classic old building that has seen better days.

I felt good this morning despite the chaos. There are morose burnt-out staff, and eager young paladins, and laid-back goof-offs, and driven professionals. In other words, it's like any place of employment. When I left WTMD was playing, ironically enough, "Way Down in the Hole" by Tom Waits. Just south of the school are the McCullough street projects, and just north is a sea of boarded up houses.

Here we go!


casey said...

Go ge 'em, Prez.

Great post; my vicarious quota for the day has been filled.

PS: Why the hell were their hipsters there? Are there Casios and Pabst in the teachers' lounge?

Heather said...

I am going to be avidly awaiting these posts. Nothing fascinates me quite like the stories of teaching in Baltimore City schools. Good luck!

geoff said...

Casey--I'm not sure about the hipsters. They were the last click I expected to see. There were three of them, however. Oh, and it's not Pabst in B'more--it's Natty Boh.

Heather--Hopefully I have time to post. I get about one hour of liesure time a day between school, grad school, and personal belief statement homework assignments. Thanks for the luck. I'm going to need it.