5/3/09-- Three administrators from Central, all three with arms folded and frowns on their faces, stare down at us as we walk into the library, like bad-ass bouncers at wedding you don’t want to be at. We are herded to the round library tables, which, like a wedding banquet, mark each spot with a handwritten placard of our names. In the middle of the table, like a centerpiece, are stacks and stacks of purple, green and canary yellow pieces of paper, collated and stapled. I sit down next to five fellow English teachers, and two gym teachers I know only by sight.
We are at “In Service,” aka “Teacher Detention.” Since our school district is considered among the ‘top’ ones in New Jersey, it prides itself on its ‘professional development.” Did you know it has one of the “most extensive teacher development programs in the state?” I guess that's why they think we're at a wedding banquet.
When the library has filled up with about 100 teachers – 8 per round table - one of the henchmen, a squinting man dressed all in black barks at us: “Okay! Facilliate!”
We stare at him. He stares back. We don't move. Encircling us, at the edges of the library, sort of exactly like the Guardians at the Ends of the World, are all seven Vice Principals, all with their arms folded. They don't move either.
“Come on!” the next bouncer finally says, a big woman with frizzy hair. “Facillitate!”
Next to me, Dan, a fellow English teacher, raises his hand. “Um, what do you mean, facilliate?”
Frizzy says, “Facilliate means ‘to help.’ “
Dan opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again. “Yes, we know what the word means. I just don’t understand what you want us to do. Facilliate what? What do you want us to do?”
Our principal, Mr. Suspenders, appears suddenly from behind the bookshelves. Has he been hiding there all this time? He takes the microphone. “Come on guys. This isn’t rocket science. This is public school.” Before we can quite digest what this means exactly - public school is for stupid people? Is he really saying that? - he storms out, leaving us alone with the three henchmen, Frizzy, Squinty and the Silencer, a big heavy guy who looks like a hit man for the mob. The Guardians of the World still stand in silence; one of them, Stacy, fiddles with the chocolate chip cookies laid out on the librarian’s desk table.
Silencer stares us down, arms folded. We stare back. Within a minute or two, we've won the Stare Contest.
The award is that Frizzy woman decides that a change in tone is in order -- God forbid a change in topic! She asks us to ‘brainstorm for five minutes’ what our worries are. We chat for five minutes about where we're going for lunch. Then we start to feel sorry for the gym teachers we don’t know and we introduce ourselves to each oher. I find out that one of the gym teachers just lost her pregnancy after a series of complications. “Oh, I’m so sorry!” I say, feeling terrible for her. She says she’s still bleeding, but she has to come in today even though she could ‘barely make it out of bed this morning,’ because she has taken all her sick days.
Frizzy woman takes out a huge purple marker, smiles at us in what is supposed to a friendly fashion and, with the marker poised in front of the poster paper, she says, "Okay! Tell me about your worries. What are you worried about right now? What are your concerns? ” She writes down, WORRIES, on top of the paper.
We oblingly tell her that our worries mostly boil down to: "What is our goal today?” or “What do you want us to do?”
After spending another 15 minutes carefully cataloguing these concerns in various permutations, Frizzy woman then ignores all our questions and instead passes out still more paper, this time pumpkin orange. On the top of the paper is the word, “FACILIATE” and below it says how important it is to listen and how one good method is to have a ‘paraphrase passport” in order to speak. A ‘paraphrase passport,” the orange pumpkin paper informs us, is a sort of entry ticket that you must use before you speak; you must paraphrase what someone just said before you state your view. We're high school teachers. Many of us are in our forties and fifties. Some people have been teaching for 20, 30 years.
Frizzy woman smiles benignly at us. Silencer has moved over to the door, like a bouncer blocking the exit (entrance to freedom?). She says, “So, let’s faciliate!”
At the table behind me, my fellow English teacher, a backstabber and excellent self-promoter who thinks he's hot shit but isn't - I call him Mark Twain because he has a Mark Twain mustache - has fallen asleep, but in a clever way so none of the Guardians notice—his back is to all of them and he faces only Frizzy, who doesn’t seem to notice he is fast asleep. His mustache buzzes slightly. Lucky Mark Twain! Two of the far tables have begun openly talking – teachers are terrible for talking and openly disregarding rules – because the Guardian nearby them has been called out via her beeper. We, unfortunately, are positioned right next to the Gang Of Three.
Dan raises his hand again. I love Dan. “This is—“
Frizzy interrupts by raising her hand. “Now, remember! You need to restate what I’m saying. And try to use a Paraphrase Passport. Maybe you can use yoru paper this time and pretend it’s a Paraphrase Passport
Dan takes the pumpkin paper, slides it over, and then says, “You know, this is pretty insulting and demeaning.”
Wow. The room is silent; even the far tables stop speaking. We all wait to see what Frizzy will say.
. Frizzy says, "Hmm.. You think passport is insulting. Hmm. Well, it can be useful, particularly in cases when people have trouble getting along."
Without missing a beat, Dan says: "You’re saying that I think that the passport is insulting."
Frizzy is oblivous. “Yes, I see that you feel that the passport is insulting. However , it can be useful, particularly in cases when people have trouble getting along …"
Dan smiles. I really don’t know what’s possessing him, but it’s awesome. I put my hand over my face so Frizzy can't see me grinning. " So you're saying that I’m saying that you’re saying that I’m saying that the passport is insulting."
"Yes, I"—Finally her reptilian brain has grasped that Dan is joking. She slowly smiles. “That’s funny! Yes, that’s what I’m saying—"
But the Bald Guy clearly thinks we’ve overstepped out bonds. He walks up to Frizzy and pushes her out of the way (yes, he pushes.) She steps aside quckly:
“You need to think outside of the box! You're used to being told what to do. We’re giving you an open-ended question! Ok? YOU decide what you’ll be talking about. Now! Decide!”
Here is what I decided at that point.
I decided I'm sick of being treated with suspicion and contempt. NCLB has seemed to worsen, rather than improve, the status and autonomy of teachers today. Teachers have all the responsibility when things go wrong, but none of the responsibility to help make it go right. I would wager a great deal that this scene above will resonate with most teachers. And I decided I'm tired of teachers having no voice in our national 'discussions' on education. I decided that I wanted to start this blog and invite all teachers to share their voices.
Next entry I'll start to discuss our newest national 'plan' to whip us teachers back into shape, and what's wrong with it and why.