Archive for September, 2009

Oh, Joseph K.


I wrote my undergraduate thesis on physicality in Kafak– and read, for a sweaty, corner-cramped year, all of his works.  (Except for _Amerika_. I’m saving that.)  Oh, the bureaucracy in Kafka, the endless hallways, forms, doorways, misdirections, and missed directions his narrators have to endure.

Today was a Kafka day for me.

There is a “hiring freeze” for schoolteachers in this city. No new teachers (not already in the system) need apply.  I’ve had three principals tell me, wistfully, that I’d be great, they just can’t make a move until the freeze ends.

I think I’ve applied for 64 classroom teaching jobs, and two dozen nannying positions.  For those keeping track at home, I am certified in another state (with reciprocity in this state, during non-freeze times) in grades 5-12 in ELA, I am TOEFL certified, and I was awarded Teacher of the Year in my district.  My PRAXIS scores are out of this world, as are my references: principals say things like, “I wish I’d had an English teacher like Ms. H– things would have been so different for me.”

To no avail.  Finally, a great principal at a great school wants to hire me to teach seventh grade performing arts.  (How awesome a gig is that?!)  He has been fighting HR for two weeks, trying to convince them.  There might be a loop-hole: the regular performing arts teacher is out on sick leave for five months.  Could I be a long-term sub?

One would think so.  In the past 48 hours, I’ve been offered the job, then told it wasn’t possible,then told to send my SSN–quickly–and finally asked to bring certain paperwork to the school ASAP.  The layers of red tape boggle my mind.

I walked to the school today, with my teaching certificate and PRAXIS scores and transcripts and references in my bag, as if they did any good.  No one can officially hire me.  I thought about Kafka’s narrator in _The Castle_, climbing staircases, watching the snow fall, listening at doors, and trying in vain to make connection with someone in the castle.  In the loveliest (and most memorable to me) scene, he picks up a phone extension.  Instead of even hearing a dial tone, he only hears the far-distant sounds of children laughing.  The “man upstairs” cannot be reached.

The principal has a good idea– a way to get me into the school and keep me.  I resist saying too much, or even thinking about it– I am loathe to count my chickens.   Next Tuesday, I will take my paperwork “downtown” and try to get processed.  Two days after that, if I am “in the system,” I can begin teaching.

Can I digress– perhaps boast?– for a moment, to highlight my frustration? I’ve taught adults in Prague, beginner speakers with no English at all.  Children in Haiti, in Creole. Kindergartners in a housing project, “gifted” suburban sophomores and seniors in high school, and all range of middle school: tutoring in math, grammar, Shakespeare, and history.  I don’t _want_ to teach in a private school, where certification wouldn’t matter.  I _believe_ in public schools, whole-heartedly.  Can someone help a teacher out?  Make smooth the way?  Show me the secret passage past the myriad front desks, up to the room where I can get my golden ticket to teach?

I said ruefully to Matt today, “Who knew my undergrad studies would have prepared me so well for real life?”

But I am hopeful.  Tuesday, I will do whatever it takes.  Come a few more days, hopefully I will be planning drama and performance with 100 or so kiddos.  Wish me luck!


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Yesterday, I babysat Louisa, one of the little girls from my Sunday school class–I’ve been teaching her in Sunday school for three years now, since she was three. I babysit only occasionally, when my work schedule allows.

We did lots and lots and lots, but in the afternoon, she wanted to play soccer in Riverside Park. She even changed into her complete soccer kit to do so.  She told me the rules, and I guarded her increasingly-getting-wider goal area.  She gleefully escaped, sometimes scoring one point, sometimes two, and sometimes three.  (I don’t know how scoring actually works in soccer, but that sounded reasonable to me.)

We lay in the grass to rest, and she said, “Let’s tell a story.”  Louisa began by telling me the story of the tortoise and the hare.  (Interesting that in US English, we never use those words, save for in that story, which even little children know.)  I made up a story for Louisa, inspired by the way the blue sky looked like lace through the green-to-yellow shuddering leaves above our heads.

“Once upon a time, there was an ancient and wise king.  A dragon searches for him every night.  To escape from the dragon, he decided to turn into a tree. That tree there– see how silvery?  That is the wise and ancient king.  Every night, the dragon walks slooowwllly through the park, looking for the king, but he never finds him.

The dragon is purple and red, with golden scales.  He is very ferocious, but not very smart.”

Occasionally, I stopped, and we’d think about the bit I’d just told.  Then, Louisa would say, “Tell more.”

“There is also a royal empress, and she has loved the ancient king for many centuries.  She is brilliant and brave.  Her love for the king is so deep that she also chose to become a tree–she’s that tree there.  See how their branches go up together? They’re holding hands.  If you come here to the park on a summer night, and listen very, very carefully, you can hear them murmuring–they tell wisdom and love for each other.”

“Is that true?  Like for real life?” Louisa demanded.  I said, “It’s story true.” “Tell more,” she said.

“Every night, the dragon walks through here– he’s searching for a secret, but only the king knows where it is.  (It’s deep inside the big library, but the dragon will never know.)  You can see the gold scales glitter in the moonlight, and it would give you the shivers.

Once, a brilliant young girl came sailing up the river on a royal ship, all the way from China. She had heard of the wise king and empress brilliant and brave, and wanted to meet them.  She had long black hair covered with emeralds, and her cloak gleamed with rubies.  Her ship sailed silently up the river, landing right there.

When she came into the park–she was such a smart little girl–she stood very still, and listened very carefully.  In that way, she knew right away which trees were the royal king and empress.”

“She becomes a tree too!” Louisa said.

“Yes, the young girl–a princess, really–decided to become a tree, too.  Which tree is she?  Yes. Oh, they are wise and kind, and will live long, good lives. They can turn back into humans if they like, but they have good lives here in the park, too.”

After the story, we played it out.  A dried leaf with turned up edges can be a bed if you put it turned-up edges up, or a very good table if you put it down turned-up edges down.  We found good blades of grass for the king, empress, and princess.  You know how sometimes leaves dry full of tiny holes, looking like lace?  Those kind of leaves became skirts for the empress, and a torn leaf rumple was a cloak for the king.

Tiny squares of bark were plates for the table, and books, and pillows.  Slender, tiny twigs were serving pieces.  The royal trio ate breakfast, and slept, and talked about royal and beautiful things they knew.

And then we played some more soccer.

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