Los Angeles Times reported earlier this month, "L.A. Unified board picks Richard Vladovic as new president. By replacing Monica Garcia with Vladovic, the LAUSD board signals the waning influence of former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. This begs the question: Are days numbered for embattled Superintendent John Deasy?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Latest Job Interview Has Harry Seeing Ghosts

. . . Fearing the Cadaver Could Be His Career, Mills is Last Seen Cleaning His Fuel Injectors Southbound On The 110

The following is the 6th installment of a series of stories depicting the odyssey of teacher Harry Mills as he searches for a new public school from which to resume his teaching career after his previous school was handed off to a private charter operator by the Big City School District after years of low scores on standardized tests. Previous stories are available by searching the blog archives to the left (scroll down a little.) It is a fictional story, as are all the rest. The characters are not intended to represent any individuals you may know. Coincidences do occur, however. These stories are written solely for the reader's entertainment.

By Mark J. Blocker

It was nine Wednesday morning in mid August, and Harry was sleeping lightly--his head sandwiched between two pillows successfully blocking the cacophony of jackhammers and wrecking balls across Pacific Coast Highway tearing down an abandoned boat dealership. The phone started ringing. A 310 area code meant it was another school calling for an interview. English teacher Harry Mills, unemployed since June, gladly picked it up.
“Yes, this is Harry Mills.” The clarity and the energy within his voice surprised Harry.
“Yes Mr. Mills this is Samantha Richards at Yardin High School how are you this morning are you still looking for a teaching position?”
Harry immediately recognized the rapid-fire staccato voice as that of his favorite ex-principal who left Missouri Compromise Middle School three years ago. Although many teachers disliked Ms. Richards, some even transferring, Harry always enjoyed her. She seemed to like Harry, too, taking time out, after reprimanding him for some chicken shit reason, to learn about the man's personal life. She was an attractive, energetic woman probably nearing 50, with skin the color of coffee and cream, who favored golf attire—even while on the job. Through conversation, Harry learned Ms. Richards was raised on a truck farm outside Beaumont, Texas, the middle of 7 children. She got a full scholarship to the University of Houston where she had the lowest handicap on the women’s golf team. She and her husband still played weekly at any given course anywhere in Southern California.
“Well, hello, Ms. Richards, remember me, Mr. Mills from Missouri Compromise?”
“Well, I’ll be! Mr. Mills! I thought I recognized that name. How are you?”
“Better now that you called. I’m still looking for a job.”
“Well, Yardin has a position to fill. Are you available for an interview Friday?”
“Yes ma’am.” The idea of working for Ms. Richards once again was exciting. Mills remembered giving an annual test years ago to his ESL students which could qualify them to enter regular English. It was illegal to provide answers to the students, so during the oral portion he set a table outside the classroom door so they couldn’t hear the answers. Ms. Richards didn’t like that. Harry had to be inside supervising his class. She told the ESL chairman Mr. Superna to have Harry figure out another way. Harry suggested the school provide an aide to either administer the test or supervise the room. The next day Superna told Harry Ms. Richards said there wasn’t any money for aides. So Harry moved the table halfway into the doorway, with him and the student still outside the room. No, Ms. Richards told Superna—that is a safety hazard because the table blocks the exit in case there’s a fire. Harry said to hell with it and moved the whole god damned table inside figuring nobody gave a shit if kids heard the answers.
Approving this new set up, Ms. Richards herself stood outside the door, smiling, flirting with Mills, telling him “Not only is Mr. Mills smart, he’s downright handsome too! Right class?” To which the class responded with a lukewarm endorsement smattered with outright denials. After that Mills was one of Ms. Richards’s minions. Maybe the only one. When she announced her transfer the following June, the faculty’s reaction was quite a bit more jubilant than that tepid display by Harry’s 5th period on that hot and windy October afternoon.

Mr. Mill's, tomorrow's not Friday!
“Very good, I’ll see you tomorrow at 10,” Harry confirmed.
“Err, yes,” Ms. Richards answered, “Friday at 10.”
“See you tomorrow.” Harry hung up, enthused at the possibility of reconnecting with Ms. Richards. She had life. Personality. Something he had not witnessed out of an administrator in a while. Just then the phone started ringing again.
“Mr. Mills, this is Samantha Richards again. The interview is Friday! Tomorrow's Thursday. Today is Wednesday!”
“Ooops! I’ll be darned. I’ve been on vacation so long I’m losing track of the days.”
Just like old times, Harry thought.

Yardin High? More like nursing home
Harry parked across the street from the campus and killed 15 minutes listening to nearby traffic and chirping birds while admiring the newly planted magnolia trees establishing themselves on Yardin’s front lawn. He crossed the street against the gaze of a silent crow who flew off when Harry returned his stare.
Inside the front office a slow moving, heavy-set woman with her hair frizzing crazily out her head watched Harry from behind her desk. It was as if she was wishing he would simply walk out the other door without bothering her. Harry told her his business, and she shook her head as if to say, oh no, not more of this bullshit. Then she laboriously got up and shuffled off to disappear behind a partition that separated the principal’s office from the view of anyone on the street side of the front counter.
After a moment, the woman reappeared. “They’ll be with you in a moment,” she uttered, moving back toward her chair. “They’re in some kind of meeting.” Harry figured she was talking to him, but a head turn and a little eye contact would’ve confirmed his suspicion.
Harry couldn’t figure out whether it was the aged teachers who entered and exited the office, or their groans and sighs while they checked their mailboxes, but the place seemed as lugubrious and lethargic as the lobby of a rest home. The only things missing were the smell of piss and ammonia and simmering, poorly paid attendants wearing scrubs. But this was the Big City School District. And a high school, too.
Suddenly, Ms Richards burst in like sunshine. “Good morning Mr. Mills do you have a resume or anything for us?” She took the papers, smiled, turned around and marched off to the copying machine against the far wall. Done, she came back carrying the originals.
“You can keep those, Ms. Richards. They're all for you.”
“Oh, really? Well, thank you.” Her sincere gratitude struck Harry as odd. What the hell could he do with his own cover letter and resume after the interview? Autograph it and hang it on a wall as a souvenir?

Goodbye, Ms. Richards
Ms. Richards marched off, and Harry never saw her again.
Instead, a woman who was 8-months pregnant came and got Harry.  He enjoyed walking down the hall with her toward the library. Her youth, Harry guessed mid 30s, and her fertility made Harry feel better amongst an unmistakable pallor he couldn’t quite figure out. Even the rack of florescent tube lighting overhead seemed to cast insufficiently at midday. Perhaps it was the considerable fog that clung to the air outside. No, the cool, moist air felt refreshing. It wasn’t the walls; they were recently painted beige with forest green trim—just like his previous school. Strange.
They entered the library. Six people who all looked to be nearing retirement sat at a table waiting for Harry while reading his paperwork. The lady quietly introduced him to the assembled as Mr. Miller, and they silently returned his nod. After his escort excused herself and left the room, the sole remaining empty chair beckoned from the end of the table. Sitting down, it momentarily felt to Harry like Thanksgiving, and he was head of the household.
But this was no celebration of gratitude; he was just some out-of-work fool propped up for a cursory probe. In fact, the whole scenario felt more like a wake: somber and strangely reflective. Harry looked at the faces of those assembled. Nobody smiled. Their cheeks sagged into jowls. Eyes that looked like rocks sunk into threadbare, blotchy pillows stared at him but would drop once Mills tried to make meaningful contact.
Finally, a lady who looked like she never even bothered to brush her teeth anymore whispered, “How do you use data in your instruction?”
Since June, it was the sixth time Mills had to formally answer that question. It echoed in his head. He wanted to deliver a fresh answer, but all he could come up with were retorts that sounded sarcastic, so he stuck with the stock answer he had told so many others before but without any favorable results.
It was time for the next query, but nobody said anything. Instead, they cradled their chins in their palms, or bobbed their heads slightly as if surrendering to late morning slumber.
It was then that Harry noticed a man who looked like Abraham Lincoln: tall, wearing a black suit, old-fashioned shoestring tie and a stovepipe hat. He stood behind the others who were oblivious to his presence. He motioned Harry to come over. Harry did, and as he walked over Harry noticed the man presenting an open mahogany casket. Its interior was tuck-n-roll white satin. The handles polished brass. The man seemed proud of the coffin, and he motioned for Harry to get inside and try it out.
Harry looked back at the table. All the teachers and assistant principals were now rubber necked, dozing with their double chins resting upon their chests and breasts. Some were drooling.
Harry knew he was no spring chicken anymore. Sometimes his white and gray hairs, sizable gut and labored gait frightened him when glanced out the corner of his eye to a surprise reflection from a storefront windowpane while he strolled along downtown sidewalks. But he had a lot of time left-- a lot of work and a lot of fun. He was determined to fight for every hour, and he figured he had at least two decades of prime time left. He wasn’t going to spend any of it inside the tomb called Yardin High.

Light traffic and a lead foot
Pressing his foot upon the accelerator, hearing the pistons churning up a storm, Harry wondered whether Yardin High could be lively once neighborhood teenagers were back cavorting through the halls and raising hell in class. Harry gunned his silver Prius and was already passing traffic before the onramp leveled off. He merged left, and before his signal clicked three times Harry established himself as the pacesetter of the southbound Harbor Freeway. He was Mario Andretti; not the punk kid, but the old man, the patriarch, himself. Even the sun above positioned itself through the dissipating fog for a clearer view from which to admire Mills’s flight away from Yardin.
Two more interviews had passed when Ms. Richards called again a week later to inform Harry that he wasn’t hired.
“Thanks for letting me know,” Harry replied. She was the first principal who had the courtesy to call him back. Harry always liked Ms. Richards. He always will, too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Displaced Teacher Harry Mills Endures Another Hostile Interview but This One's Different: The School is Ugly, Too

By Mark Blocker

The following is Part 5 of a fictional story detailing displaced public school teacher Harry Mills attempts at securing a new position within the Big City School District. But so far the only positions around here have been unappealing and difficult to assume. The earlier chapters are available in the blog archive to the right (scroll down a little.) As always, the characters are not intended to be descriptions of actual people working in, say, the Los Angeles Unified School District or some organization like that.

It's ironic that Nature Middle School is located on the corner of Burlington and 59th in the middle of Big City's hardened urban core. The difference between the area around Nature MS and Volts? Volts is a mile east. Also, Burlington and nearby intersecting streets are nice and wide to accommodate the tanks Detroit put out in the middle of last century. But these streets are just as mean as what you drive and walk in Volts.
So it was with a shrug and hard swallow that Harry Mills, English teacher displaced out of his previous school of 9 years by an egregious act of subterfuge perpetrated by the Big City School District board, accepted an invitation to interview at Nature MS for a job teaching English.
On its front, Nature MS had all kinds of rusty, grafitti-marred signs warning against vandalism and trespassing screwed into the chipped exterior plaster in dire need of a coat of paint: latex flat; not high-gloss spray from a tagger's can. Harry puzzled over what a blue RAC sprayed over with a brown X and SLOS meant while he retrieved his briefcase from the car. He pressed the wireless lock on his key. Then he pressed it again, just to make sure. Startled by a hoarse, angry shout, Harry turned to see a passing '85 lowered Lincoln Town Car sedan, primer-gray and suffering major dents. It was full of boys.
"BITCH-ASS MUTHAFUCKIN HO getcho ass . . ." As the heap passed further south, Mills lost track of what the young black was shouting from the rear passenger side. Harry immediately noticed their target, though: a woman, perhaps in her early 20s, dressed in blue jeans and a pink cotton blouse, with very elaborate, multi-colored corn row braids flowing down her back. Gold hoop earrings shimmered in the sunlight. She ignored the abuse and continued striding southbound on Burlington, but avoided eye contact, instead fixing her gaze upon her own sandaled feet negotiating the cracks and tilts in a side walk lifted up by the roots of a large ficus tree that sheltered a full nest of shitting sparrows. She seemed used to the abuse, but annoyed at the birds.
Harry climbed the steps to the interior of Nature MS. The main office was on the right. It was empty. Standing at the counter he gazed across through a doorway on the opposite wall. A woman sat shuffling papers, talking to others out of Harry's view. Seconds stacked to minutes. Harry gave up trying to make eye contact and turned around to busy himself scanning the mail slots looking for names of familiar teachers. Missouri Compromise had a heavy turnover and attrition throughout the years.
"May I help you?" The words were less a request than a declaration of annoyance. Harry turned. It was the same woman he had seen earlier at the table. Harry apprised her he was there to see the principal for a job interview. Silently, she turned and walked back to where she came from, pausing to gesture to an unseen person in an adjacent office that an intruder was in their midst. Harry stood for awhile, then sat down on a plastic chair and waited. And waited.
Finally, a tall lady with an attractive hourglass shape squeezed into a tailored, gray pantsuit approached.
"Are you Mr. Mills?" She wasn't smiling.
"Yes Ma'am." Harry liked the way people from India spoke, especially the women: launching each English syllable with distinction, playfully tossing each off their lips, finishing the Ts and Ps by snapping their tongue off the roof of their mouth to create a sweet click like that heard from a tap dancer's shoes.
Harry would've felt more at ease had she smiled during their greeting. Probably reluctant to show friendliness, he thought. Some people refrain from friendliness as a defense mechanism in a place of business. In the ghetto, predators interpret friendliness as weakness. Harry was just some poor old sap looking for a job. Maybe that was what bothered her.
She never told Harry her name, just motioned for him to follow her to a small desk situated in the middle of an otherwise empty alcove of huge room devoid of any furnishings or decor--except Rorschack-like stains and countless holes spotting four dingy walls. Harry looked up at the acoustic tiles. They were all there.
"I have five questions," she stated.
"How do you use data?"
She wanted Harry to tell her that he used it to improve instruction. So that's what he told her.
"How do you manage your classroom?"
Harry didn't know what she wanted to hear. Some principals like a tightly run class; others tolerate a more relaxed style believing it puts students at ease--thus lowering their "affective filter" or internalized barriers to new information and learning. He announced, "My main requirement is for students to complete their assignments. Students who are engaged are less likely to cause trouble or struggle academically."
"How do you engage them?" Harry's response apparently inspired her to veer off script. She must've found his answer interesting.
"I try to make my lessons culturally relevant by employing SDAIE methods," Harry uttered, proud he employed a fashionable buzz word. SDAIE isn't really a word per se; it's an acronym categorizing techniques teachers can use to make lessons understandable to students who don't speak English. When talking to non-teachers, Harry liked to describe it as drawing pictures and gesturing, just to see how they'd react.
The anonymous principal finished off her list by asking, "So, why do you want to teach here at Nature Middle School?" Her brief display of animation heartened Harry.
"Well, I spent my entire teaching career so far at Missouri Compromise. I got into this business 9 years ago after hanging around publishing for 20 years or so. At the time the BCSD was recruiting teachers willing to come into what I guess laymen would call tough, urban schools. I answered the call, so to speak. It was the smartest move I've ever made. Missouri Compromise hired me right on the spot. It was thrilling. But now the district handed over my old school to a private charter operator who wants to come in, hire a new staff at lower pay, without union protection. So that's why I'm here. This part of the mayor's charter operation, right?"
"Not quite, we're affiliated with another group, but our teachers maintain their BCSD union benefits and seniority."
Harry nodded and smiled.
"Any other questions?"
"What kind of textbooks do you use in your English curriculum?" Harry inquired, trying to stretch out the conversation and increase any chance she may immediately hire him.
"Uh, textbooks, you wrote something here . . " She glanced at his resume. "Prentice-Hall."
"Oh, good. I'm familiar with their program."
"All BCSD schools use Prentice-Hall, Mr Mills."
She was wrong, but Harry didn't correct her. He had come across materials from at least three different publishers in the five schools where he had interviewed.
"Anything else, sir?"
"No, ma'am. I think we've just about covered it all," he smiled, but inside he knew it was all for shit now.
"You may go," she stated, eyes lowered as she scribbled intently upon her checklist. Harry sat there a moment longer, watching. The only sound was that of a pencil scratching across paper. Silently, he got up and left the room.
Stepping out of Nature's front door, Harry smelled the smog and felt the heat. Then he heard another car full of young assholes abusing some woman walking down the street while minding her own business. Harry got into his car and hoped it would start. It did. Driving off, he never turned on the radio. He just wanted to listen to the motor carrying him away.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Harry Gets a Job Offer But 3 Weeks Later it's Yanked Away--Wasting Precious Time to Find a New School

The following is Part 4 of a series of stories recounting the saga of 9-year veteran public school teacher Harry Mills after he was kicked out--along with colleagues, administrators and support staff--from an urban school serving a poor, crime-infested neighborhood. Everyone was thrown out on their asses after the Big City School District board of education last March declared the place hopelessly mired in low scores on state tests, then gave it to a private charter operator which could run the place without accountability to the public for how they spend tax money, nor restrictions mandated by laws protecting civil rights of students and parents.
It's written as fiction so the author is reasonably protected from retaliation by people with such a bad self-image that they see themselves in these characters. The story is written more to amuse the reader than to inform. If you want non-fiction about the current self-destruction of the Los Angeles Unified School District, click "Fremont Watch," in the box on the right featuring our friendly sponsors. Enjoy!

By Mark J. Blocker

Harry Mills spent the past 9 years teaching at a public middle school where he was slugged, shoved, spit upon, cursed at, had his car keyed, and gravely insulted too many times to count. But the number of students with whom he enjoyed a mutually respectful and sometimes adoring relationship outnumbered these petty indignities, so year after year he kept returning to work at Missouri Compromise Middle School. It was now June turning into July, and he would have been preparing for his September return had not the Big City School District closed the school before immediately re-opening and handing it off to a charter school company so it could skirt around the State law that requires a school district to collect a predetermined amount of signatures from parents and staff before condemning a school and offering it up to bids from outside operators.
The move was illegal as a riot, but since the local media had been whipping the public into a lather about "expensive, poorly performing" schools in the Big City School District, the switch was executed before an opposition could be organized. The impotent teachers' union had long ago bumbled its way to the sidelines, and the community's elderly congresswoman shuffled into the issue too late. It was now a fait accompli.
It's not like Harry was out on the street shoving a shopping cart, though. He was still employed by the Big City School District, he just had to find another BCSD school in which to teach. If he couldn't secure a position on his own, the BCSD would send him where there was an opening for an English teacher with his credential. If he wasn't proactive, this fall Harry could be inching along a two-hour commute.
So far, the search wasn't going too well. He first interview was for Nickerson Gardens High School in Volts--an area even worse than that served by his former school. Nickerson High is a charter, but it's run by the mayor's Premiere Schools for Tomorrow which allows teachers to keep their BCSD seniority, pay and benefits. The same could not be said for the charter operator Bright Spot which grabbed the keys to Missouri Compromise MS. A month had passed since that first job interview, so Harry figured Nickerson HS had passed on him. He wondered whether it was because of all the disparaging posts he wrote about the mayor on the Big City Times newspaper web site after it reported that his campaign was financed by billionaires eager to turn local public schools into cash cows for themselves and cronies. The Times articles didn't describe the situation so succinctly, however.
Now was the last week of June, and school was over. But this was no time for reflection about professional lessons learned during the past academic year. Harry was having a bad time hustling a new gig, suffering through a pair of hostile interviews that left him feeling like an incompetent moron. Mills was starting to worry that this job search was going to become a degrading snipe hunt. (See Part 3)

Ring! Ring! Harry gets a bite in the same dirty lake
The phone rang again. It was a Mr. Humberto "Bert"  Suarez, principal at Blockburn Middle School in Volts. Volts again. Well, Harry didn't get into this business to teach in Sugarland, so he gladly accepted the invitation and looked forward to the interview. Like Nickerson HS, Blockburn MS was also operating under the mayor's Premiere Schools for Tomorrow. Harry shrugged, nobody reads the Times or its web site anymore. Good.
On the Friday before 4th of July weekend, Harry left his suit inside the closet and put on one of his loud Hawaiian shirts, a pair of black jeans, and drove once again deep into LA's festering pustule of Volts. It wasn't like the suit did him any good. Besides, it was summer, and it was hot. Only a moron wears a wool suit this time of year.
This section of Volts was nicer than where they held the previous interview. On three sides Blockburn was fronted by large, barren asphalt parking lots buffering humungous, nameless concrete shells Harry surmised were vacant warehouses. There were no ominous housing projects and boarded up store fronts once painted garishly but now faded with poorly rendered hand-painted signs offering in misspelled English various sundries to Hispanic pedestrians. Harry even spied in the distance a chain supermarket gracing the former premises of a burned down Korean liquor store and its unfortunate neighboring businesses.

Campus an oasis for students
Blockburn's inner campus was an oasis. Walking through an open gate of a heavily fortified fence, Harry stepped into a lush quad area. Immaculate green lawn and an array of California trees, running the gamut of oaks, palms and redwoods, made Blackburn's campus a wonderful place to spend the day for Volts's 12 and 13 year olds.
Harry knocked on the locked door of the main office. No answer. Then he went looking for the library figuring everybody must be over there at some meeting. The door was locked. He went back to the front to count cars in the parking lot, but was greeted by a man who reminded him of actor Eric Estrada in his "CHPs" TV show days, but with about 30 more pounds.
"Hi, I'm Harry Mills. Do you know where I can find Mr. Suarez the principal?"
"You're looking at him!"
After a firm handshake and a few pleasantries, Suarez turned around, unlocked the closest door, and led Mills into a storage room. Boxes were stacked everywhere, but a large table and two chairs offered a place to conduct the Q&A.
"Sit down, Mills. I'll be right back."
Harry sat. Before leaving the room, Suarez hurriedly set a pair of old sneakers on the table within whiffing distance of Harry, who tentatively resumed breathing very shallowly, after scooting further down the table while Suarez was in the next room busy gathering papers.
"So," Saurez called from the other room, "Missouri Compromise, huh? We just hired another English teacher from there. . . uh, Estrada? Ospina?"
"None of those names ring a bell."
Harry heard a paper ruffle. "No, no! Here is is, Elita Bermudez!"
"Ah, yes, Ms. Bermudez! She was two doors down. Great teacher." Harry then added, "Say, she's a lot prettier than I am, though."
Suarez guffawed. "Well, we try to balance things out around here."

Harry and Suarez hit it off
We're getting along, thought Harry. This guy's a principal who doesn't treat his teachers like shit. Suarez returned to the room, grinning. He tossed a folder holding resumes on the table, sat down, then leaned back and laced his fingers behind his head sticking his elbows out to the sides. Harry assumed the same relaxed body language. Then Suarez did all the talking. Once in a while Harry nodded to show understanding and agreement. Suarez didn't seem to notice. He just continued his monologue.
Blockburn, Suarez confirmed, was under the umbrella of Premiere. He himself was so sold on the organization's vision that he left the Compton district to take this job. The school day would be divided into 7 periods, with struggling students required to use the 7th to complete assignments and homework; others could take an elective. He had found a reading intervention program worth tens of thousands of dollars stuffed into a storage room. The program proved itself effective at other schools, so he was going to implement it. As part of Premiere, the faculty is required to participate in 100 extra hours of paid training and professional development during the year. Would that be a problem?
"Hell, no," Harry replied. "I'm always looking for ways to become a better. . ."
Suarez started in again. Most students, he noted, were what you call, ELLs, or English Language Learners. Spanish is their first language, but most can't read nor write it. So they speak street versions of two languages and are essentially illiterate in both. Meanwhile, the brand of English spoken by nearby African-Americans is also non-standard. That makes them ELLs too, though they're not permitted in English Language Development classes.
"Look, Mills, I can see by your resume you already know this stuff. You've been teaching ELLs for years. You have a Cross-Cultural Language and Academic Development specialist certificate. These letters show your principal and former lit coach both recommend you.
"I have one more guy to interview, but it looks like you're my man. I'll call and let you know one way or the other by the end of today."
They shook on it and Harry practically danced back to his car. Later that afternoon, Suarez called back and told him he did indeed have the job. All of the sudden intrusive charter schools, more frequent observations and endless training didn't seem so bad. Whatever it takes to get these kids proficient, Harry told himself.
But it all came crashing down like a propped up tree house three weeks later when Suarez called back and said BCSD was negating the previous teacher's transfer and sending her back.
"Maybe you can ask if they'll let you be in our pool of subs," Suarez half-heartedly suggested.
Harry said he would but didn't. He didn't want to substitute; he wanted to improve as an English teacher, and the only way to do that is to teach English everyday. Suddenly, Harry realized what went wrong. Thanks, Suarez, for sitting on the God damned intent-to-hire paperwork! Now I've gotta make up for lost time!
Harry could've bitched, but it wasn't his style. Instead, he sent resumes out to a wider circle of schools. He still had August to find a place willing to take him.

Friday, August 12, 2011

School Ends, Clock is Ticking for Displaced Teacher to Find a New Gig Within the Big City School District

So Far, No One Wants Harry (He Doesn't Love Them, Either)

PART 3 of a fictional story written by Mark J. Blocker solely for the reader's entertainment. The following are merely characters. They don't represent real people either living or dead. Heaven forbid they remind you of someone you know, or of yourself; but if they do--that's life! If you haven't already, be sure to read the last two posts before you read this if you want the story in its entirety.

June 24. Last day of school, and last day of Missouri Compromise Middle School being staffed and administered by the Big City School District. From now on, it would still be funded by the BCSD but run by charter operator Bright Spot. Back in March the school board voted to wash its hands of the inner-city school, handing it over to an independent charter operator. This was particularly insulting to the school's incumbent administration and faculty since they had submitted a formal proposal to run the school--a proposal that was endorsed by the outgoing superintendent. Nevertheless, the majority of board members--whose campaigns were supported by the mayor who was a political rival of the superintendent--blew off the suggestion and instead implemented the mayor's mandate: Break up the behemoth BCSD and hand off the goods to major donors to his recent campaign. Surprise.
So the final day had arrived and BCSD teacher Harry Mills was officially without a school. Mills had to find another school at which to teach, or the BCSD would send him wherever it pleased. The clock was officially ticking.
The kids were cleared out, the classroom was swept, Harry's prized pencil sharpener and paperweight were safely ensconced in the trunk of his car, so Harry conducted his last order of business in the front office: surrendering his classroom key. Mr. Frost took it and checked off a box next to Mills's name.
Sticking his right hand out, Harry said, "Perhaps our paths will cross again Mr. Frost."
Frost glanced upward and to the left, cocking a brow at the thought. He silently grabbed Harry's hand and the grip was surprisingly firm. In fact, to Harry the handshaking ceremony was completely free of any awkward pause.
Then Harry moved on to the principal, who was standing at the end of the counter. "Perhaps I'll have the pleasure to work with you again, Ms. Moon. It certainly was too brief. Good luck, now."
She nodded and dabbed her eye with a tissue. "Thank you, Mr. Mills," she sniffed.
Again, Harry was surprised. All through her tenure, Ms. Moon seemed to value efficiency over emotion.
Exiting the office, Harry silently patted the shoulders of each teacher waiting in line for Frost.
Starting his car, Harry was surprised at how little sadness he felt leaving Missouri Compromise after teaching there 9 years. It was the only school where he had ever picked up a stick of chalk and tried to sell a kid on the importance of looking good on paper.
Speaking of looking good on paper, Harry sent out resumes to virtually every school in the southern area served by BCSD. He already had two bites: South Pole Middle School a few miles to the south, and Fresh Gas Middle School, in the town of Worthington--named for a famous car dealer whose business supplied so much sales tax revenue for the city the council renamed the town in his honor. Then they did whatever the fuck he wanted for 20 years until he got caught for Federal Tax Evasion and rewinding odometers. But it's still called Worthington. It's also where Southern California refines its crude oil into gasoline.
Cold wind at South Pole
The nice lady in a sweatshirt running the front desk at South Pole MS directed Harry in his cheap suit to a classroom where the staff was conducting some sort of professional development. It was the first day of summer vacation, so Harry thought it odd that they would be conducting a PD in June and not in September as a warm up for the new school year. Must be something to do with the budget and the fiscal year, he mused.
"No," answered a bubbly woman who looked like a professional soccer mom in her 30s, corn fed and with a toothy grin. "It's just, I believe, we all have separation anxiety." She seemed very warm and friendly. The kids must love her, Harry thought, I hope I get the room next to her.
Harry looked around the room and noticed something was weird. The teachers were all sitting at miniature tables. It was all classroom furniture for grade schoolers. The teachers' knees were up near their chests and many of their asses spilled off the chairs. If they dropped a pencil, they could pick it up without bending down.
They were apparently doing an exercise on teaching juvenile literature. They had big sheets of butcher paper spread out before them, and in groups they were cutting out pictures from magazines to make a collage depicting a scene from the book. Harry thought such endeavors were useless bullshit, but authorities maintained that it helped students with writing difficulties demonstrate that they had successfully visualized and interpreted the story. While everybody busied themselves with the task at hand, unwelcome memories of childhood revisited Harry. He was alone, left out and not immediately fitting in. Good Lord, Harry thought, you're 53 and the new kid in town all over again.
A few minutes later the PD was over, and they led Mills upstairs to the library. Harry thought it odd the library was up on the second floor. He certainly didn't envy the poor saps who lugged all the books up there.
Games begin
"So, uh," began a very stocky woman who apparently liked to shave her head, "Mr. Mills is it?" She double checked his resume, "tell us a little about yourself." Harry did, and the four adults sitting on the other side of the massive library table kept their eyes on their copies of Harry's rez, his cover letter, and three letters of recommendation. Were they checking to see that his stories matched?
The four silently stared at the bald lady. She began talking again, "Says here, on this letter from a . . . a Mr. Biting, that you, and I quote, 'bring new ideas to the table'." After a pregnant pause she continued, "Could you please tell us what some of these, uh, 'new ideas' are?"
Whether wittingly or by accident, the woman caught Harry off guard. He really had no idea to what Biting was referring. Harry considered all of his own ideas used. They were based on previous experiences and tried-and-true suggestions from past mentors. He frantically tried to reload memories of meetings with Biting, his former literacy coach, to come up with something good.
He shrugged, "Err, maybe . . . I guess he's talking about ideas I may have had during collaborations, how to . . . approach implementing lessons after looking at test data, things like that."
The woman frowned. She reminded Harry of actor James Earl Jones with too much estrogen. Man, what an ass kicking principal, he thought. If a kid ever got called into her office, she'd . . .
But she wasn't the principal. That was the Caribbean dude wearing the Belize soccer jersey who silently sat observing the unfolding tragedy. He escorted Harry out of the building where they had a nice conversation about how South Pole Middle School really is a nice place in which to work.
The principal told Harry the campus is divided into two sections: one for 7th and 8th graders; the other for 6th graders. The sections are separated by a narrow street, but joined by a pedestrian bridge that allows students to safely cross from one campus to the other when needed.
"During the last week of school," the principal proudly recounted with his refreshing Caribbean patois, "we have a ceremony where the 6th graders cross that bridge and they are escorted by the 7th graders around the campus to meet next year's teachers and visit the classrooms. They have lunch together and play sports and other activities all afternoon. It gives them the opportunity to formally meet  their peers for the following year."
"What a great idea!" Harry enthused. He told the principal he certainly would look forward to joining South Pole's staff. They shook hands, the principal patted Harry on the back, and that was the last Harry had ever heard from Antarctica Middle School. Or whatever it was called.
Hey! Come on down to Fresh Gas Middle School in Worthington just off the 610 Freeway take the Avalon exit go right . . .
Things didn't go much better later that week at Fresh Gas MS down in Worthington. The principal reminded Mills of his estranged brother's second wife: a size 2 shrew with flaming red hair and long, sharp finger nails. Those were also red. Mills's brother's wife hated Harry and forbade them to have any contact after Harry once said something nice about his brother's first wife. The way the principal eyed Harry, his gray beard, pony tail, ill fitting suit and black sneakers contrasting against his brown belt, she looked like she was going to declare a similar mandate, too.
Instead, she led him into a conference room where two other teachers were waiting. He remembered the woman from a week-long professional development they had together the previous summer. He waited for some acknowledgement of their previous encounter, but she offered none, so he let it rest. The other teacher was some young guy who looked more like Opie Taylor than Ron Howard. He even had freckles, tousled red hair and squinted while reading Harry's paperwork. Mills noticed something while gazing at the others seated around the circular table: they all had red hair.
Ding! Round Two
"So," the principal began, "tell us about your test scores."
"They're fine. I passed the SSAT and the CBEST on my first try. I have a CLAD, and my credential is good for another two years."
"No, no, no! I mean your students," she sneered.
"Oh, them! Heh, heh," Harry chuckled. "Did anyone tell you why I'm looking for a job? They closed down my old school, heh heh." Harry noticed he was a little too jovial compared to the others.
The red brigade just stared back at him. Then they smirked and dropped their eyes back upon photocopies of his papers. Before they asked a follow-up question, Harry threw up his hands.
"I'm not a magician. I don't have a magic wand. My students tended to score what is average for the district and what was average for Missouri Compromise." Then, like a fool, he continued. "These standardized tests are just one measurement of a student's capabilities. They don't measure his or her ability to come up with an original thought and defend it. They only measure how well he or she agrees with whoever wrote the test. And most of the students we teach in this district come from a different culture than the individual who wrote the test. There's a chasm, a disconnect that's affecting the results, so you can't use them as the sole measurement of achievement. Hell, I even have trouble with some of these tests for the textbooks, and I'm pretty confident I could argue that my answers aren't any more or less correct than those on the so-called answer key! Our kids don't have the opportunity to explain or defend their answers.
"Half the time I just write my own tests covering what the class and I agree upon as the important elements of an author's argument. Of course, it's not really a democratic consensus. Sometimes I have to issue a teacher's declaration."
There was silence. Harry punctuated the end of his monologue with another regrettable chuckle. No one else joined in. No one else smiled. They didn't even shake his hand when the interview was called to a conclusion, and Harry was told by his angry sister-in-law's doppleganger that it was time to go.