Publication Date: 2006-09-02
This beginning-of-a-new-school-year account by a first grade teacher is at once harrowing and magnificent. Mostly it's wonderful to know there are still TEACHERS out there doing what teachers do best, ignoring the scripts, responding masterfully to the needs of the moment, and caring deeply for children.
Yes, Sarah is Sylvia's mother. What a combination!
I started teaching this week with a lovely first grade, I don't think half the children know what I'm saying but such it is in a Sheltered Immersion class (think 'sink or swim' with sign language, lots of repetition, a teacher with M and M's and heart) . My favorite moments were. . . when I found Isai under my desk, the way they learned "Put on A Happy Face" in record time, and my trying to get up off the ground after a round of Duck, Duck, Goose and of course realizing I wasn't getting up "right away". . . nothing like a spine that's not firing. And the gun next door.
Public school is a cross between inanity and war zone way too much in my career. . . but I do teach in South Oxnard which isn't really Watts but it sure isn't the Hampton's. It's a very poor neighborhood, 100% free lunch, and over these last few years I've seen some pretty sad poverty issues. It's a barrio, has gang life, crime. . . . I know I'm teaching in a place many would not drive into. Generally I feel safe because I'm so inured to it from all of my career always a minute away from needing to respond to a crisis with a clear head. . . . Sometimes I don't have a clear enough perspective on that.
On the way to recess Friday morning the school went into "Lockdown" after our Principal called out on our intercom to 'return immediately' to class. We have about 800 kids K-6. Boy those first graders are imprinted on me already. In just three days like geese. . . . I said, "Turn and run in our room." and they were in in less than 25 seconds and doing it "in a line."
Previously, I had called doing this the "running fast game," giving them a candy and a Sesame Street tour through my impersonations of Grover, Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Oscar. Oscar was voted "most real."
In the crisis moment: across the street, guns drawn, a crew of Oxnard Police Department took down an armed robber who had just robbed a lady literally at gunpoint just on the front of the school. Took him out. One thing I've learned is Oxnard PD responds fast and with every intent to take the threat down.
Nothing else was said to us at school and it was if nothing happened after the event among the teachers--simply the day as usual. No note home to kids. Instead, faculty and Principal focused on Standards and the day. Nothing was said. Talking Standards and staying on scripts. That's all we do now, follow the teacher manual and use the curriculum that's adopted.
So it appears that just like when I worked in South Central 20 years ago in LA this just becomes "another day in the neighborhood." I ask: Should we normalize this kind of event? Certainly we do not want to frighten kids. But amongst ourselves? I don't know. I do know if this had happened in West Lake or Thousand Oaks, CA you'd have heard about it on the news and I'd be attended by counseling so I could "get in touch with my feelings. . . ." Yikes. . . poor kids I have this year. Poor kids don't get the luxury of being cared about for their hurts. . . .
One little girl in my class I knew from surgery. We saw each other when I was in getting my staples out of my stem-to-stern incision after the second intestinal surgery.. She was there getting her staples out of her head. . . . She had surgery on her face for flesh eating bacteria. Her family lives in filth in a garage. She lost her mom to a drug overdose. Dad??? She lives with a grand mom who is so out of it it makes me cry. She also lost her uncle and grandpa and great aunt all in the same year two years ago. No one copes there. If only you knew and I could tour you through the life I lead. . . .
Her infection is back oozing on the side of her face. She needs. . . .everything. I'll get a bag of groceries over today (do it every week since two years ago)and work on social service to get back to the surgeon. She's underweight. When I gave out big pretzels for a snack she asked other kids for theirs and hoarded them into her cubby. She brings in left-over food from the lunch trays. She's afraid of being hungry.
So right there--day one. . . I'm aligned with core mission. Feed the child, try to get this child care, clothes, toys, education, sense of personal power, sense of autonomy. And dodge the gun which was right at the entrance to the alley she lives down.
One day I'll figure out what more to do. . . .for now just dealing with kids that live in the mess of trying to assimilate into California life as field workers or unemployed or under the table guest workers. Yes, most are the kids of illegal immigrants, and yes, most are citizens.
Most of my class call me "teacher" and don't say Puglisi and they liked best a game I "made up" called "run to the fence and back." At the end of the week that was what they voted they liked best. Keep in mind we had sushi this week, read Yoko, sang 25 new songs, taught and kind of learned 15 chants, watched "Bootsie Barker Bites", let them into the Beanie Babies, painted portraits, gave crayon boxes I bought them, used white boards (always big in the past), let them all hold eagle statues to sing patriotic songs called "Steglets," and generally invented and created to beat the band. . . .
But the lockdown rather took the cake for me. It got my vote for most memorable first week. Teacher can we go to the bathroom? Not right now, dear. Mrs. Puglisi is thinking about hiding you under her desk and playing a game called "you must be kiddin'."