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?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Slugs, Slurs and the Slow Moving Machinations of Big City School District Justice

Over two weeks have passed since the kid slugged me while I was trying to break up a fight outside my classroom. I reported the incident twice to LAUSD police. Once right after the fight, the second time after I noticed a deep purple bruise the size of a half dollar on the side of my gut.
The second cop filed a report and gave me a case number. That was the last time I heard from law enforcement. The dean informed me about a week ago that the police were on campus the previous day looking for me to identify the kid from a line up of perp photos. Why I had to do that is beyond me since they identified the kid and apparently suspended him for two days, according to the vice principal.
After I told the teacher union representative that I was pissed about how my beating was greeted with indifference by the administration and police, the VP dropped by my room last Tuesday to take my temperature. I complained to him that some dumb cluck dropped the ball. He replied that it wasn't him. Of course not, I said.
Besides, it isn't just the school administration and cops who said screw you Blocker. I called up a woman at United Teachers of Los Angeles to report my fair-weather friends. Two days later she called me back at 9 p.m. She said she was going to email me some advice and check with the local rep to ensure my case was handled correctly. I never heard from her again.
Slurs more dangerous than slugs
I probably wouldn't give a damn either way if not for what happened a week prior to my flogging. An F student, trying to be a pain in my ass, told the principal I called another student a "fucking fag" while kicking him out of class for putting on make-up. He was supposed to be doing his class assignment: writing a poem about the prettiest sunset he'd ever seen. The student whom I supposedly slurred, once apprised of the violation came barging back into the room, screaming that I was indeed the real queer.  He bravely challenged me to a fight, threatening to "kick" my "ass" before the girl muscled him out once again.
The Principal wasted no time hauling me onto the hot seat. Who cares whether the accusation is false? The scenario appeared politically chic: pony-tailed biker asshole teacher deprives 15-year-old of the right to cruise for homo-sex in 8th-grade class. She called an immediate meeting in a conference room situated behind her office. The VP sat with her on the other side of the conference table while the union rep and I faced them to hear all the charges. Very official shit. The Principal kept handing me photocopies of District-mandated warnings about the illegalities of discrimination and hate-speech, and notices about what could happen if I am falsely accused again. I ended up with a tidy stack. Meanwhile, the rep was frequently nodding and gulping. I said nothing, just stared at his Adam's apple going like a freight elevator transporting his fluids up and down. I remained silent because the alternate union rep warned me before the meeting to clam up.
She emphasized, "No matter how mad or disgusted you get, stay quiet." Then she reminded me how the faculty and I voted in the other guy as the union representative instead of her, despite her 25 years more experience in teaching and collective bargaining. She even fought for Civil Rights as a young Black woman in the South during the 1960s. I nodded and gulped.
So get this straight: If a kid slugs you and leaves a bruise: suck it up. If an F-student, angry about her grade, falsely accuses you of slurring a male student who is applying cosmetics in your classroom--your ass is skewered over the coals post-haste. And now they want to take away our medical and retirement benefits and fire us without due process too.
All about the Benjamin
Which brings us back to the kid who slugged me. I learned his name from one of the big security guards who eventually arrived and took the fighters away. We'll call him Benjamin. He's a husky African-American kid enrolled in special education "day classes;" meaning, he is not mainstreamed into regular classes despite a learning disability. I have plenty of special ed kids in my classes who are on an "Individualized Education Plan" which I glance at once before throwing it inside a filing cabinet at the back of the room. The details on an IEP are minutia written to legally protect a school; not assist a teacher. Half the time the unlucky kid is diagnosed special ed because he's being raised by a single mother or foster parent eager to receive extra assistance from a bureaucracy also hungry for more money. This leaves the kid dumbed down, coddled and mad. All they really need is a father around to love them and to love their mother.
Benjamin had disappeared for a while after slugging me. The following week he started coming around again, staring at the ground but glancing my way to make brief eye contact.
"Benjamin, come here, please," I finally asked. The cops proved themselves useless, the administrators too busy and the union reps impotent. It was down to me and the kid to straighten this out.
He walked over, staring at his feet. He avoided looking at me once he arrived, too.
"Benjamin, look up at me, son."
His eyes met mine.
"Remember me?"
He furrowed his brow and frowned. His lower lips started quivering, and his eyes quickly filled with tears. Benjamin knew he did me wrong.
"You were pretty angry that day, when you hauled off and whacked me. What were you so angry about?"
"Dennis be talking about my mama all the time. Sayin' shit."
"Well, whad'ya hit me for? I like your mama."
"Cuz you was trying to... whachoo mean? You ain't never met my mama!"
"I'm positive she's a fine lady, and I'm sure she's got better things to do than to come down here and pick you up because you've been fighting...and beating up kindly old teachers."
He shook his head.
"I bet she complained about that something fierce, huh? You probably still haven't heard the end of it."
He grinned and shook his head yes. We shared observations about the mothers we loved, and soon he was disarmed and comfortable. While he nodded I gave him the boilerplate lecture about controlling his anger. "Don't go hitting teachers, for cryin' out loud.  They'll take you to jail! What if I was some little guy or a lady? You'd be in a heap of trouble."
Then I made him apologize.
Looking me square in the eye, he announced, "I'm sorry Mr. Blocker." We shook on it. He gripped my hand like he was picking a dog turd off the carpet with a sheer Kleenex. "Geez, Benjamin, put some grip into this, willya?" Finally, we shook like men, eye to eye.
"Remember to take a deep breath or count to 10 because that's a hell of a right hook you got there."
Benjamin smiled, turned and walked on to class.
We parted friends, I think.
Other teachers tell me, "You should've pressed charges!" After two weeks, though, Benjamin wouldn't understand the arrest. It's just some more bullshit falling out of the sky. Besides, in times like this when bureaucrats and school cops fuck up and drop the ball--it's best that two burly he-men look each other in the eye and shake.
Summer could get hot
Benjamin and I made amends on June 16, 2011. In another week Henry Clay Middle School will be officially closed as an "under-performing" LAUSD campus and handed off to Green Dot charter school company. Green Dot has promised some changes. Two things are certain: Benjamin and I are both out on our asses. He's special ed, and I'm a member of the displaced faculty. There's no room for either one of us.
Oh, and another thing. The principal has not yet issued her finding on the Big Fag Incident. The rotisserie could still skewer me orifice to orifice, slowing turning me over the glowing coals of absurdity until I'm done just right.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Teacher Slugged in Gut, Morale Takes a Hit

Debut Episode: The Life & Times of Harry Mills--Unionized Teacher With an Average Value-Added Score

By Mark Blocker

The following is a work of fiction in both plot and characterizations. The characters and story should not be interpreted to resemble any persons, living or dead. The story's plot should not be perceived as a real event. It is written for the sole purpose of entertaining the reader.

While putting on one of his loud Hawaiian shirts, middle-school teacher Harry Mills noticed the half-dollar-sized purple welt on his ample gut. Damn, that little fucker nailed me good, he thought. Now buttoned up, Harry started getting pissed.
Yesterday afternoon he was standing in the vice principal's office reporting that a student had slugged him as he was attempting to break up a fight outside his classroom. Harry didn't appreciate the way the school cop made him feel like an old bag bitching about a youngster next door. Furthering Harry's belittlement, the VP, Mr. Frost, sat behind his wood-veneer-on-particleboard desk sneering while taking little bites from a yellowing apple core. Despite Frost and the cop's indifference, Harry continued providing his version of the incident. But now he regretted bringing it to the authorities' attention.
The district police officer, over 45 but exceptionally fit with a small waist and muscular chest, stared off thinking about what he was supposed to ask Mills next. Harry was emphasizing the student didn't just "accidentally" hit him. The 13-year-old boy threw a round house that solidly thumped on his mid-section.
"What were you doing to those boys? You weren't grabbing them or anything, were you?" the officer inquired with a cocked eyebrow. Harry thought the guy looked a lot like a character actor who played a lot of bit-part roles in movies and sitcoms of the 1970s and 80s.
"Hell, no. I was standing between 'em during a lull in the action telling 'em to chill out. Then the short, chubby kid on my right socks me in the stomach, and they. . ."
"All right, all right," the school policeman disdainfully waved his hand, "I get the point you think he deliberately hit you." Then the cop squinted his eyes, focusing on something. Harry turned around to look. It was the clock on the wall. 10 to 3. If Harry was back in his classroom he'd be getting ready to dismiss his last class for the day. The lithe but nearsighted policeman said they had to hurry this up because he needed to get outside when the bell rang to help kids safely cross the street. Frost nodded gravely. Harry looked down at the cop's holstered gun. After a tepid effort to suppress a burp, the cop continued, "Were you manhandling the child at all?" That bit-part actor got minor roles in just about every "Blaxploitation" movie of the 1970s. They were all rated R, and even though he was only 13 at the time, Harry proudly saw them all at the theaters downtown on Colorado Boulevard.
"No," replied Mills. "Hell, no . . "
"Did you slur him in any way, perhaps calling him the n-word?" He even played a cool cop with a huge Afro in Superfly's Big Hustle.
"What the fuck? I didn't call him no fucking 'n-word'! What kind of . . ."
"You needn't use foul language with me, suh." This couldn't be the same guy of course, Harry thought, that actor would have to be 80 now.
Frost added, "Yes, Mr. Mills, district policy prohibits the use of profanity while performing your assignment." The two exchanged nods while Harry watched and clenched his fists. Frost didn't remind Mills of anyone. His shoulders, however, made Mills think about sliced bread. Harry also remembered how it took months of purposely charming, "Good morning, Mr. Frost," before he could get the man to cast a glance and mumble his name.
Harry momentarily thought about lighting a cigarette and exhaling a big cloud all over the place. But that was against district policy, too. And Harry hadn't smoked in 15 years.
The cop took out a wrinkled handkerchief and wiped away the sheen on his clean scalp. Mills figured the cop was balding and chose to resolve the inevitable with a razor. Mills himself preferred to deal with aging by growing his thin gray hair into a ponytail that draped down his back. It went well with his salty beard. Frost had a cul de sac of what was once dark but now graying curls. Frost ran marathons and married a tycoon's daughter, so he didn't give a shit about how old he looked.
The cop sighed. "I don't know if anything's gonna come of this." He copied onto his little notepad info from Mills's drivers license. He closed his notepad and jammed it into the breast pocket of his tight uniform. Then he pulled the dog-eared pad out again because he forgot Mills's phone number. Mills noticed the cop was wearing a bullet proof vest. Harry wondered whether the cop was truly an incompetent dimwit or if it was a Columbo-like ruse to trick condescending, asshole teachers into making outlandish statements that would eventually screw them in court.
Frost gave the workers comp referral to Mills, and Harry drove down to the clinic. Harry looked across the waiting room at the oil refinery worker covered in grunge, his arm wrapped in an oily rag. After an hour wait, the ample-breasted Latina nurse let Harry inside and escorted him to a tiny examination room where she left him alone again. After another hour wait the young Indonesian doctor entered. He gave Harry's gut a cursory glance before slipping on a disposable plastic glove and poking it with his index finger. He said he didn't see anything wrong. Harry sat silently while the doctor scribbled down on Frost's form that Mills could return to work immediately. It was 6 o'clock at night. The silence became awkward.
"So a student accidentally hit you in the hall?" Harry wondered if the doctor's smile was actually a sneer.
Harry furrowed his brow and shook his head. "No. A kid . . . "
Just then the door cracked open and the nurse with her big, beautiful brown eyes inserted her head. She cupped her hand around her moist, red-lipsticked lips and whispered something into the doctor's ear. "Oh, ho! Heh, heh," the doctor chuckled with a devilish grin. The nurse's head disappeared and the doctor gathered himself, clearing his throat with an overly serious demeanor. "So, uh. Where were we? Yes." He continued scribbling with great flair.
He was a 30-something and spoke with a surfer drawl more common to coastal, blue-eyed, blond flakes. Like the ones he grew up with on Palos Verdes Peninsula before graduating from UCLA medical school. Harry figured the BMW parked out front with the Darwin-fish-with-legs magnet and Heal the Bay bumper sticker was his. He noted how all the other cars were old pieces of shit. Not mine though, Harry thought. Perhaps it was worthwhile being a teacher after all. Then he thought about how he wouldn't be done paying it off for another three years.
Poking the dashboard ignition button, Harry wondered what exactly the nurse had whispered. It's been a while since a gal talked like that to Harry. Whenever his wife called him from her mother's, all she did was complain about aches, pains and neurosis. To hell with all that, Harry vowed. He wanted to live. Walk miles in the sunshine. Swim in the ocean. Catch waves. It didn't matter whether he'd stand up and hang ten. He was satisfied with his Boogie Board. Summer vacation was a month away. The start to this story was tomorrow morning.
He gazed into the falling-but-still-strong sun highlighting all the dust and grime on his windshield. On the other side of a large vacant lot, silhouettes of tiny cars inched both ways on the 405.
Then Harry Mills turned south on Avalon before making a left on Sepulveda. He was going to take the surface streets home. It was better than staring at red tail lights and billboards tempting him with pictures of ice cold beer and fine whiskeys. It had been four years, six months, five days, 18 hours and 14 minutes since he had a drink. And he wasn't about to start now.