Ideas on education, the English language, and the teaching profession.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

A trip down memory lane

I took a ride to my old school the other day. On the way through the neighborhoods, my eyes caught the familiar sight of beautiful clean houses with trimmed lawns and gracefully aging trees softening the sun's rays. A few happy people escaped the entrapment of their televisions and took their pets or children out for a walk. The charms of the middle class neighborhood shone in the glory of the approaching autumn. I inhaled the clean air away from the busy highways, absorbed the quiet scene around me, and forgot about the problems of the week. Then I arrived at destination that always violently clashed with the tranquil pleasant surroundings, my old school.

It's a typical center of learning for adolescents. It's made up of a set of modernist blocks unimaginatively put together with a few windows. They stand tall and ominous at three stories overlooking the lawn littered with myriad junk food wrappers. Cracks run through the few sidewalks provided for students outside. In back of the school, carelessly placed dumpsters block the way from the campus to the baseball fields and tennis courts and fill the air with the pungent fumes of garbage. Lying behind the school is a vast labyrinth of portables expanding every year (from five of them to seventeen within only five years). To their credit, they do manage to keep the football field pristine, which might suggest something about public education's priorities. Unfortunately, the rest of the campus is dirty, colorless, and more psychologically oppressive than Munch's The Scream.

I choose the school as a destination because I like to ride through the empty walkways in the evenings or weekends, and I sometimes look over the fields and the setting sun. For a moment, my mind conjures the old memories of my high school days waiting for the bus with my friends. Those long nauseous days spent in that hideous complex dissolved as I looked outside to nice neighborhood and the possibilities of being free in a few years. My friends all felt that way. God pitied us and afforded that moment of relief to our suppressed spirits. Even rain or extreme cold didn't take the relief away. We pressed against the windows and continued to ponder what else there might be in life. Then the bus came and we rested for the next day.

Along with remembering those nice moments, I also remember the duller painful moments too. Every time I go to work and walk into Horizon High School (the bigger brother of my old school), I remember the feeling of dread pulsing through my being everyday when I was a student. It would be the familiar world of big crowds, tense hours filled with pointless work and evaluations, and an ugly prison-like setting. Powerful impressions developed over 12 years don't just float away just because one's being paid to go. It's something to be handled deliberately.

I consider this blog my catharsis. It helps me identify with my kids though their thinking never attains the same lucidity. Their expression will be shortchanged by their idiotic parents and an indifferent school system that can hardly sustain itself, let alone educate. Maybe they'll attempt to be semi-autoditacts like myself and find the right words. As a reading teacher, I might be the only one to give them the necessary tool, literacy, to enable independent edification.

I actually carry that thought with me as I teach. Despite the hard realism every public teacher has to face, some of them really do say, "I'm a teacher and I can make a difference. It might be a small difference, but it'll be significant. I can smile, put up the blinds letting in the sunlight, and actually help the children escape their ugly worlds with the power of language and the wisdom it conveys. The kids don't need to feel the pain I and many millions of kids felt. Or, more realistically, they don't need to feel as much pain. I can only do so much in packed school of 5200 kids."

From what I see, those that do this are the best teachers. There're only a pitiful few of them though.

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