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 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment