Sunday, July 11, 2004

First Day, First Hour
I was hired here at this shitty Bronx High School, with remarkably little scrutiny and even less fanfare. It’s just another example of the swamp of disorganization and chaos that is the school system. I spend all summer looking for a job, calling principals, faxing resumes, shaving and getting gussied up in a tie to schlep from table to table at maddening job-fairs, to no avail. Then, two weeks into the year, I walk in, speak for three minutes with Assistant Principal Mrs. S******, a distracted, tiny little old lady with shoulder pads in her jacket and big glasses giving her a tortoise-like appearance, and I’m hired. No interview, no sample lesson, nothing. You’re hired you start tomorrow. You speak Spanish? No? Whatever. Be here by 9:25.

So I showed up the next day, early in fact, sweating nerves and from the fact that my only dress shirt was of the thick blue Oxford type, and it was still in the 90s out, and the school, like the subway stations, has no air conditioning. Also I hadn’t worn a tucked in shirt outside of a funeral or for more than an hour at a time since I started dressing myself, and my khaki pants, purchased hastily at some discount store in Harlem, were just slightly too short, causing me to constantly adjust them by pulling down on my hips, where they wouldn’t stay and, I thought, combined with my billowy, wrinkled, tucked-in shirt, uncomfortably accentuated my general scrawniness in a way my usual hipster attire – which shows off the lean, wiry, hirsute machine that I am – thankfully do not.

I was given a schedule, a Delaney Book (an arcane attendance record device featuring slotted pages and hundreds of cards slightly bigger than 2 postage stamps, corresponding to each student, on which I was to somehow record addresses, phone and identification numbers, and every day of their attendance or lack thereof) and stacks and stacks of paperwork to fill out, and that was it. No curriculum, no instructions, no pep-talk, nothing. I was starting to sense a pattern. I was nervous but not scared. I was, in fact, pretty confidant that these kids would think I was Miles Davis after I came in, as I planned to do, and showed them that writing and reading could be hip and witty and dangerous and relevant. They would write essays about Biggie vs. Tupac, and they would love me. I planned on ignoring every bitter old codger who had told me not to smile until Thanksgiving. I would kill ‘em with kindness. All I had to do was be, you know, real.

I walked into my first class, L3RE (level 3), ready to be a next-millennium Mr. Kotter to my eager Sweathogs. A young woman teacher was already present, standing in the front of the room shuffling papers or writing on the board or doing some such teacherly thing.

I sidled up and informed her that this was my class. She looked confused. I showed her my schedule. She sighed and slammed her Delaney Book closed and hurried out of the room, muttering something about “fucking ridiculous bullshit” as she left. The kids were mine.

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