Symphony 9

“Why,” Neil asked, “do they use one of the air conditioned rooms for a lounge instead of a classroom. That doesn’t make sense. In fact, it seems downright cruel.”

Gina pointed to the photocopy machine purring in the corner. “There’s your reason,” she said. “In hot weather kids grumble, complain, and get cranky. So do teachers. But xerox machines grumble, complain, get cranky — and quit. And it takes a lot of money to get them fixed.

“Now tell me, how did you teach when you were teaching high school kids?”

“We read together sometimes, sometimes they read alone, we discussed what they read, and they wrote papers on it.”

“Did you teach grammar?”

“Some. I taught it when I taught freshmen, but for my last three years I didn’t have to teach as much. It was pretty fully covered in the first two years of our high school.”

“How many of your students couldn’t read? And how many of them weren’t native English speakers?”

It seemed an odd question. Neil said, “All of my students could read, of course, and if any of them weren’t native speakers, I had no way of knowing it. Why?”

Gina looked puzzled. She said, “Let me ask you one more question. What was the socio-economic base of your school?”

“It was in a pretty rich district. I would say that it ranged from middle class to the country club set.”

Gina sighed, then grinned sympathetically. “Neil,” she said, “welcome to the real world. This is a small rural district. When the new mall went in ten years ago, we expected to grow, but it hasn’t happened. We are right next to the fastest growing part of town, but not quite in it, so we are still too small to hire more than a bare minimum staff. Fortunately, they are mostly good people who try hard, but we don’t have much to work with. The fact that four out of seven classrooms don’t have air conditioning tells you how tight our budget is.

“And that isn’t all. Over half of our students are Hispanic, and half of them come and go on an irregular basis. We have kids in the eighth grade who haven’t spent three complete years in school.  Some of them can barely speak English, let alone read or write it. They come in for a couple of months in the fall, go back to Mexico for the winter, and come back in the spring.

“Of the ones who stay, some of them are excellent students. Half our eighth grade valedictorians are Hispanic. But the others will break your heart. Just when one of them seems to be making progress, away he goes and you don’t see him again for six months — or never.”

This was news Neil could have done without. “What do you do with students who don’t speak English?” he asked.

“You do the best you can. There is a Spanish speaking aide who will come into your class two hours a day. Her name is Delores, and you will find that you can’t get along without her. But she has to cover all three grades, so most of the time you’ll be on your own.”

“But why are they passed on if they don’t speak English? They surely can’t learn anything that way.”

“Would you want to teach a six foot tall sixteen year old in first grade?”

“No, but they can’t expect me to teach anything to kids who don’t speak English,” Neil said. “That’s ridiculous. I don’t speak Spanish. There has to be a better way.” more tomorrow

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