Saturday, September 13, 2014
Sunday, September 07, 2014
Over the past two decades I've noticed that all the restaurant and shop employees in places like Ocean City, MD have become East Europeans. I've been quite curious about how they were treated and the agencies which brought them here. Today we picked up two youngsters from Lithuania who are staying with us a couple nights via AirBNB. They were traveling down from Atlantic City NJ to Baltimore on Greyhound, and planning to do three days in DC and a week in New York before flying home. Via car-ride small talk I found out that M. and W. were guest workers for a casino hotel who did housekeeping over the summer. "It was terrible...not nice at all," W. said, twining her long Goth dyed red hair around a finger. A quick litany: The guests were disgusting and mean. The bosses were rude and intemperate. The dormitory was not secure and in the first week many students had their personal belongings (phones, laptops, passports) rifled and stolen while they were asleep or at work. When the students complained to the owner of the dormitory he replied: "At least you weren't shot or stabbed!" This sounds a lot less like a work exchange program and a lot more like officially sanctioned human trafficking. Is this the impression of the United States we want to send back with thousands of East European kids eager to practice English and get work experience? Why do we bring them here to expose them to the worst aspects of first-world capitalism and decay? Why should they go home and tell friends the USA is better than Russian dominance of Eastern Europe after their experience here? Even worse, lanky, athletic and tall M. told me they were supposed to work until yesterday but the hotel booted them out because it went bankrupt. Ironically I picked them up at the Greyhound station next to the shiny, new Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore City. I was very self-conscious about the appalling state of our roads and sidewalks and West B'more neighborhoods as I drove them to our house in Reservoir Hill. I remember back before the neoliberal revolution in the 80s when roads and sidewalks and public areas in the USA were pretty well maintained as a matter of course. I've driven on better roads in Honduras than we have in this City. How badly we've been derailed, and how hard it will be to get back...
Saturday, September 06, 2014
I'm two weeks into my 7th full year as a middle school teacher in Baltimore City public schools. This will be my 5th full year at our amazing hippie dippie progressive school in Pigtown. I work with the best people ever, the smartest, the most genuine, the most creative, compassionate, supporting, selfless, innovative...OK, you get the picture. I'll not inflict any more adjectives upon you. (well, one more: they are also all sexy). Over the past seven years I've morphed from a Language Arts teacher to a Humanities Teacher, meaning I mostly teach Social Studies and History now. I think I'm getting the hang of it. I think my first two weeks of school were my strongest start yet. And judging by the ideas swirling around my brain I think this entire trimester may be my strongest yet! Now if I could actually get the plans down on paper, LOL.... I started the year in a dark place. I felt drained and detached, and that feeling had hit hard last January. I was BURNED OUT and summer did nothing to change that feeling. I've never had a job for more than 7 years, and I wonder if I'm experiencing that cycle again, the need to move on and try something new. Just in case, I've applied for a position teaching deployment kids in Europe for the Department of Defense. This is just a shot in the dark--but it would be nice to take a couple years off from Baltimore and teach in Belgium, Germany, or Portugal. But I would be an idiot to leave my school. It really is the best school in Baltimore City, and my wife often claims it is the best school in the state of Maryland. (She has been in LOTS of schools in Maryland, and she's an expert at what makes a good school.) The professional and personal relationship I have with my current supervisor has been the most fruitful and challenging and rewarding of my career. I know our kids and have taught little brothers and sisters of brothers and sisters I successfully got to high school. I was pretty instrumental in building the middle school, and I have a certain status in the building as a result. I can be very unorthodox and loose in a way that public school administrators find galling, and yet my bosses tolerate my quirks, foibles, and insanities because I find a way to deliver the goods, the goods being challenging, exciting content delivered in a way that gets the kids fired up and thinking deeply about issues. If I work anywhere else it'll be: "Follow the curriculum, update your Word Wall, have a detailed scripted plan hanging on your board for us to access when we do a compliance audit." That change would be difficult, to say the least! Other reasons I'd be a nut to leave: I can sit down with teachers struggling with an Expedition plan and just off the top of my head give them an angle or a barrage of potential objectives and connections regardless of the topic, and this school is the exact sort of environment where a weirdo like me can help the most. I have very strong emotional, personal, and professional bonds to my coworkers. I really love these people. We not only teach the kids, we continuously teach each other, and we always fill in for others and support each other through the rocky challenges of 180 days of hard core urban education. I feel in many ways that my best students at this school have been the administrators and other teachers I've worked closely with over the past half-decade, and I hope I was their best student as well. But I also never wanted to teach middle school--I was assigned to it by Baltimore City and became typecast as a middle school teacher over time. I would like to teach high school for a while. I also would love to live in Europe for a while (before I'm too old to adjust and enjoy it). So if DOD offers me a gig in Italy it would be really hard to say no. Perhaps I won't make the grade, and I won't have to make a decision at all?