Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Destruction of Potted Plants (vol. III)

But anyone should be aware that growing, maturing people need fresh air, sunlight, water, nutrients.

A little bit of fertilizer, perhaps. Maybe some worms to aerate the soil. Maybe occasionally we can throw some coffee beans and dirt in their direction. Whether or not they receive it at home, they should receive it in the classroom.

 Or somewhere.

There are those that argue that teachers have too much responsibility, wear too many hats. That it is the teacher's job to merely instruct. That it is the parent's job to parent. That it is the community's job to safeguard. And I agree, for the most part. But our society is deeply broken: parents often work two to three jobs just to keep from being kicked out of their apartments; gangs often run streets and hypes the alleys; houses are run-down; rats are frequent; neighborhoods are red-lined based on economic and racial factors, which means that the poorer, more disenfranchised have less and less access to essential resources; true communities are often a hard-fought prize when families are shuttled in and out on a regular basis; the poor are often criminalized when they cannot find decent-paying jobs and feel a need to resort to other means of money-making; and when the wealthy do come to the 'hood, it is often with the sad attachment of displacing current residents.

Reality in America is different now then it used to be. For starters, we are more self-serving and self-interested (and improbably shorter-sighted) than we used to be. While we have made tremendous progress in human rights, those of us with a progressive bent realize that we have to constantly remind ourselves and our neighbors that we have yet to arrive, that there is immense disparity and inequality between the haves and the have-nots, that basic human rights like life and shelter and sustenance - let alone qualitative education - are viewed as privileges for the elect few who can afford them. Children of the poor specifically suffer as a result of our collective selfishness.

  Timken Roller Bearing Co., calendar, September 1950, teacher at deskphoto © 2009 George Eastman House | more info (via: Wylio)I realize that I cannot be all things to all people. No person can. Most of those mythological teachers, the superheroes who get books and movies glorifying and simplifying their beautiful careers, grow tired soon and do not last long in this treacherous game. And who can blame them? They are overworked and undernourished, pushed on all sides even when given full support from staff, administrators, community leaders and parents*. No real success happens as the result of one person against all other odds. I know it makes for good Hollywood, but teaching isn't friggin' Indiana Jones. It's more like gardening.

 A true horticulturist weens, shelters, feeds, develops, supports, prunes, staves off predators and disease, and gives proper and timely amounts of light, heat, and water to an immense amount of plants at any given time. And although he may recognize patterns and adapt better to them, he cannot account for every species of fauna in the same manner. I advocate for a broader base to support the under-served urban and rural students. I advocate, necessitate that each child and student should be raised with plenty of sunshine and nourishment. Teachers often are left to grow kids on their own. And we will fail if that is what is expected of us solely.

This is a sad state, even for a broken neighborhood. Any organization that has a place in the neighborhood needs to function as a support system for the schools around it. This includes the synagogues, mosques, store-front churches, food and liquor stores, the companies that sell products in those stores, certainly the lottery companies that do so much business in impoverished neighborhoods, local and chain restaurants, office buildings, police officers, fire fighters, postal carriers, aldermen. It behooves us all to act in the best interests of the present as well as the future health of our economy and humanity.

It not only behooves us, it will also beheeve us. We have been behoven.
*Of course these elements are overlooked in the Hollywood remakes. It is always presented as Super-Teacher Vs The World. And you wouldn't want some pesky involved parent getting in the way of a good narrative device.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Destruction of Potted Plants, vol 2

part 1 is here

There were some fights in that classroom. One fight occurred in the passing period, between two hot-headed students who each would be involved in several other verbal and physical fights the next two years. It started in a flash (although I suppose the warning signs were there if I had known how to search for them) and effectively ended when I was able to wrangle the struggle to the other side of the room to waiting security.

I don't remember much else about that confrontation.

I don't recall if there was further action directly related to that fight - though I should, by any rights, know. And I don't remember if other students were trying to get involved with the fight (though I doubt it), were trying to stop it or were merely passively awe-struck by it. But I do remember the toll that the wildly swinging appendages took on the nearby plants. Because that was all I could bring myself to focus on. I remember looking at the floor and being angry at the destruction of my potted plants. And yet I missed the big, easy picture - the metaphorical writing on the wall, if you may: the destruction of the idea of the classroom as a safe place. The two students (as volatile as they proved to be) exploded primarily not over property rights or religious views. I don't think they were arguing over who makes the best frozen yogurt. They were both at the precipice of fear and danger and one nasty or innocuous interaction led to another, escalating to the boiling point. At this point their own sharp-edged, protective words and body language were not enough to make them feel guarded from the dangers that they represented to each other. They would reconcile their apprehension at each other with many moving fists and pointy appendages.

  Struggle to Survivephoto © 2009 Adrian Gonzales | more info (via: Wylio)

The students' social interactions were not cultivated properly. And for this, I sit here, at the center of the blame. I am responsible. I cannot release myself. I cannot excuse nor recuse. The fact is, as much as it is needed in my environment, I do not know how to greenhouse my students. I was not taught that in Rhetoric 401 or Pedagogy 315.

You can go back to read the first part here.
For more along this line, check out this, please!

The Destruction of Potted Plants, pt 1

part 2

My primary plant is ivy. Partially because ivy reminds me of my old home on the north side of Chicago. It covered the brownstone like an exoskeleton in the winter, an old, leafy friend in the summer. And the ivy also represents, in Chicago at least, Wrigley Field. Wrigley Field itself (not to be confused with the home team that happens to occupy Wrigley) is the last bastion of hope for baseball as it was meant to be played - as the ultimate beer garden; a deliberately rural-esque past-time in the midst of an urban and rushed setting. Which is how I envision my plants to function and exist.

  ivyphoto © 2005 stephen jones | more info (via: Wylio)

Not as an image of beer gardens, so much – but as a pastoral icon – a reminder to slow down and enjoy your days while you can. The ivy (at home and in the classroom) reminds me that life and growth happen all around us, even in inept and regrettable situations. Like the Cubs organization and the overgrown frat boys who infest the spot like so much used hygienic products. No disrespect mean to used hygienic products...

My first classroom came pre-fitted with potted plants. To this day, I don't know what type they were, only that they - like cockroaches - could theoretically outlast a nuclear Armageddon. They were nearly indestructible, which they needed to be at the time because they were under my care. I think they were a variant of purple cacti, with leaves that dry up under the hot summer sun. I soon realized that these thingymabobs are so hard-to-kill that all I needed to do was water them on a regular basis and they were fine. And when I say, "regular basis", I mean, "once or twice a month if I remembered." Or course, they never lived up to their full potential. Which reminds me of too many report-card conferences.
Second grade Teacher: Jason is a very smart and capable young man. 
Mom: Why, thank you. (Pregnant pause) But, what else can you say about his progress? 
Teacher: He doesn't live up to his potential. 
Father: That's what we figured. 
Jason: (Scratching the back of his pants.) This doesn't sound good. 
Father: You're right. And it won't sound good on your behind either. 
Jason: Oh, drats! (Pulling up underwear from the back.)
This scene repeated twice a year for most of the rest of my formative education.with slightly altered language as I was further removed from my "Leave It to Beaver" years. College was different primarily because I was not in a mood to squander perfectly good money that I either earned or borrowed and would pay back through several years of incremental payments. These loans would, I knew even then, come back to haunt me like Kathy Lee Gifford haunts Regis. Cryptic envelopes, monthly payoffs, promises of eternity, ill-timed phone calls. The odd purple plants managed to survive through the year. But not intact. And, like any group of war combatants, they lost some brothers (or is it sisters - or rather, brosters, being that plants don't really have a gender, only gender-parts. "Sothers"?).

*You know, wearing the knickers, and the little bow-tie. I was a cute little kid. Unfortunately, I was still scratching my nellies to the very end

Please read part 2 here

Monday, March 26, 2012

Every Day Always So Pretty

We're riding the bus on the north side going back to my house and we're playing sight-seeing, one of Jocelyn's favorite games. Later we'll play Spot the Pretty Flowers on the Lawns, which is an odd game to play in Chicago in March, but here we are, in full bloom and looking at leaves and flowers blossom with the type of fascination I've never had for them before - the type of fascination reserved for fathers talking their nature-loving, tree-hugging daughters out for a nature walk - and maybe for arbor-biologists, I guess. If that is such a thing.

But for now, we're on a a business-dominated street and there's just boring stores and restaurants. But then I see a young woman walking by herself and Jocelyn spots her too and she says, "Ooh! That girl has on boots. The same boots that Claudia has."

Claudia is her best friend forever's mother. We met when they lived next door to each other and we found out they shared an affinity for princess wear and smashing bugs.

"Are you sure those are the same boots?"

If the fate of an innocent man were to be decided on my proclivity for remembering fabrics, cuts, colors, or even types of articles of clothes, I would buy some candles and say a few prayers. So I'm always amazed when someone else can remember anything about any piece of clothing that another person wore. In fact, I'm amazed when I remember my own articles. Jocelyn only notices them when I'm wearing my boat shoes. "Haha! Daddy, you got the same shoes as the principal, daddy! Ha ha."

For now, though, she's reminded of a fellow fashion maven.

"Claudia always has the best clothes. She always looks so pretty! Every day she always looks and dresses so pretty."

There are a lot of moments when parental jealousy can come creeping in. This, thankfully, is not one of them.