There are no birds out the window. Instead the vapors of the industrial wasteland make alkali scented Rorschach steam cloud images.
I am distracted. Daily. Like an unoiled gear in my own head I hear the incessant moan/drone of machinery emanating from the nearby industrial complex. A Glade Plug In cannot mask the airs stench. Occasionally water spews spilling into our classrooms from the aged infrastructure of this once abandoned building.
The soundtrack of our days are the reverberations of a delivery truck,the passing trains or hollers from street basketball .
Often the echo's of some child's sorrows resound through the thin plaster walls of the quiet room where the children are contained during violent episodes at this center program for emotionally impaired children.
In our previous school we faced a courtyard. It was home to robins, blue jay's and an occasional family of ducks. The view balmed the teachers and student's alike. It kept us dreaming.
The building beyond redemption was scheduled to be demolished. We were to relocate. It was hard to move, hard to change our world view. I tended to this change by coming up with ideas as to how I would green up our space. I prattled on to my ever patient team teacher about my plans to entice birds to our new schools tarred parking lot. We would adapt the habitat and adapt to the habitat. My promises were like the wind...
I began the year in my English Language Arts class by reading to my students' the sixties classic Jonathan Livingston Seagull(Bach). Jonathan in order to reach his potential had to break with the pack. His inner voice kept urging him to swoop, soar, swirl.
In the shattered urban world out my window we see only gulls.Though graceful,these squawking birds are referred to as flying rats. They follow garbage, seek discards.
We are the discards, these students sequestered away in a school whose setting mirrors that of the Upton Sinclair novel The Jungle.
I do not feed the birds. Only gulls will come to leave their droppings.
My brother Chris worked at this factory complex Zug Island,before he had asthma and allergies. He tells me stories of his labourings there. The workers had regular tests done on their breathing and wore protective face masks.
“But Chris”, I say “I read about the island and it says there is a wildlife refuge there and there is a protected species of bird .” He laughs a familiar taunt to my younger sister “boy are you stupid days. ” “The chemicals burned their wings. They can not fly,” he tells me.
I think of how the Samuel Zug through some legislative manoeuvrings had managed to finagle the land from the Native Americans. This land once a sacred burial ground now a spewing relic. The non flying birds perhaps a curse?
The air quality is so bad that a class action suit resolved in favour of the plaintiff. The settlement required that the monies be spent on windows so the citizens could hermetically seal themselves from the world in efforts to protect themselves from air sewage.
This new school is devoid of beauty. I want to see a winged creature out my window. To temper dreams I have my students write their perceptions of what they see out the window. I think I just want them to look skyward. Dream themselves out of this hell hole. Dream themselves away from whatever chapter got them here. Away from what caused them to be so distraught that they squawk and flap, use their behaviour like a sandpiper with a broken wing using hurt to protect themselves from assault.
They are the screeching gulls.
I had committed to my team teacher (of fifteen years) that I would court the birds. I was blessed to work with a woman of such grace and equanimity and professionalism. She shares a birthday with my grandma, a woman who also cherished birds. Grandma beautified her decayed neighbourhood by feeding sparrows with the commitment of St. Francis of Assisi.
I wanted to replace some of the beauty we had lost. I wanted my friend to have her birds. I researched. I bought special feeders to woo the birds. Alas no birds. Not even a thieving squirrel.
Having breeched my commitment to my friend I bought her a garish plastic parrot, from the souvenir counter an inner state truck stop. Every now and then it says it says, “ I love you. I love you . Tweet. Tweet.” It's noise a smoke screen to my broken promise.
Every year at the beginning of the year there is always a kid who is terrified of reading, a self proclaimed non reader .Often he bolts from the room bellowing hoping that his noise masks his deficit. Rather than let his elephant live in our classroom, we talk about this. I tell him that we will work as a team. Everyone in the class will help him. They will be his sound slaves. When he gets stuck they will get him out of the jam, move him to the next word. Then I look in his agitated eyes (Kids want to read as much as eat, the ultimate shame is not being literate). I look in to his trepidatious eyes, hoping I can peer with the same steel as my grams. I say, “ If I can not teach you to read I will quit my job.” The pressure is off. If he fails it is on me. We now have everything on the line. His reputation, my career.
I have never quit wanting birds out my window or for the child to read.
The previous school was once condemned . We had roaches and falling ceiling tiles,and great leaks in the roof. Yet we were anchored in the beauty of the courtyard out our window. As a farewell I wrote a piece about the courtyard.
It told about the day I was sitting alone in the group area with the students when a robin kamikazed herself into the glimmer of the window and died.
We watched horrified
We live chunks of our lives in places that become our world view. We are either teacher or student. The rotation of seasons mark time but much is the same.
Even as it hit the window I knew this dead bird was foreshadowing my mom's death which came a week later.
As it slammed into the glass my work/professional self got all mixed up with the kids. I could not breathe, I wanted to run wailing from the room. I wanted to resuscitate the bird. But I had to stay the course. I was the teacher, the grown-up. I had to use my countenance to placate the already bruised children
I have looked out school room windows for 52 years. Dreaming. Running away. Seeking the answer to the teacher query. Always pleased when there is a bird about.
With no particular rationale our school recently went under reconstruction. I mean Hollywood “Up in the Air”, George Clooney reorganized. In this movie he comes in all suave and empathetic from an outsourced agency to terminate employees. He says, “I am sorry...” and then decimates ones' livelihood/mission. It was catastrophic.
The week of the reorganization I introduced metaphors to my class. Being an abstract concept I knew only a few of my students were ready for lesson but everybody loves when words became songs.
Let's play with words. Lets make magic. Let us say what we want to say but make a word picture. It became a game. When you hear me using a metaphor raise your hand. I am always wanting the students to have window, a word to re-see the world with. I want them to pull the hurt words from their core splay it on the paper, purged from their innards. If they have voice they have power , freedom perhaps when they speak out they will not have to act out.
No rational offered I got relocated, reassigned right out of writing, right out of reading. Reassigned is not a metaphor, it is a euphemism...
Like the mutated birds on that desolate factory, I have lost my flock. I will no longer team teach with the woman whose own great teaching was my Jonathan Livingston Seagull. She stirred me to ask more of myself as a woman and an educator. I flew better. She the lead swan breaking the air so the rest could move with greater grace and poise.
I was moved to math and science (I have 16 college credits in these two areas I have 30 in ELA (English Language Arts) and am a published author who is currently writing a book on the interior lives of children). Relocation away from my team teacher away from ELA.I have lost two loves...my subject and my beloved co-worker.
Last year I circumspectly read to my student's the Caldicott winner The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Selznick) to my students. Hugo,the main character on his epic journey must discern his purpose in life. My purpose is voice. I am aborted from my purpose.
How high do birds fly? In what habitats do souls thrive? Should one become a duck if they are a a swan?
Now I fear my promises are broken. I will teach no one to read. I promise to quit my job if I can not teach you to read. Is this a promise I made you? Is it a promise I made me? Or is it a sacred contract I made with myself?