I am a proud product of the New York City public education system. I know there’s supposed to be a joke in there, something about a criminal record, or the misspelling “edumacashun.” Classic stuff. But I choose to skip it. I get a little defensive. I got a great education, I swear! I was fortunate enough to have the benefit of quality gifted programs, a mother who was familiar with the Board of Ed, and parents who…y’know…made me go to school everyday. (Even when it meant that I threw up in class. Twice. In seventh grade. Really secured my popularity, guys.)
I have a soft spot for public schools, is what I’m saying. Despite all of their issues.
But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t a hotbed of crazy.
I visit schools a lot. I have spent more time in Mrs. Whoozywatsit*’s third grade class than I ever did in eleventh grade physics. (Sorry mom.)
Overheard in school:
“Miss, I like your piercing. Did that hurt? You got tattoos, right? I want a tattoo. I want a butterfly on my back.”
This was a second grader. A child unknown to me. During reading time. No one noticed she was talking to me. No one noticed the strange adult in the room, either. Hold off on tramp stamps, kiddo, there will be time.
“Um, I don’t know. I guess so? Whenever?”
A school secretary, when I asked if I could come visit a child. Seriously.
SJ: “What are your other triggers for your anger?”
13 y/o: “FIGHT!”
SJ: “Seeing fights?”
13 y/o: No. FIIIGHT!
The point was moot, as the child I was quietly counseling ran past me to observe and heckle a brawl in progress. I slipped out shortly after.
Then there was the time I was present for a fire drill. Well, I say fire drill, it was actually some little jerk pulling the alarm and fucking my shit up.
I had to evacuate, of course. With 4200 excitable teenagers.
“Hey, you need to be escorting your kids away from the building.”
What’s that? “My kids?? Oh, right. Why would an assistant principal know who his teachers are? Yes, he thought I worked there. It was a chaotic situation, and I have a helpful nature, so I just did it.
“Hey, put that phone away!”
A security guard, chastising me for live tweeting the event. Because I had suddenly become a student.
“I’m here to see Reginald Von Gooberschmidt*.”
“Well his class is in gym.”
“OK, can I see him?”
“We don’t know where he is.”
“I thought he was in gym.”
“They don’t usually go.”
“Can you check? I mean, I called and you told me to come in.”
“We don’t know where he is. He probably left the building.”
“This is a fourteen year old child, no one can tell me where he is?”
Me and a guidance counselor. I’d go on, but my spleen ruptured.
There are, of course, great moments too. Watching a veteran third grade teacher redirect a chaotic group of thirty two kids, many of whom are supposed to be getting one on one help but aren’t, with nothing but rhythmic clapping? That’s amazing. A pre-schooler requesting that I go down the elephant-shaped slide, then excitedly introducing me to all of her friends is a dream. (Hint: she is friends with everyone.) Getting to be on a first name basis with a guidance counselor who is constantly, heroically available to every kid in that school. It’s rather rocking.
Public school employees and social workers have a lot in common. We’re underfunded, most people don’t have a clue what we do, our jobs are way more dangerous and they should be, and however we might feel on a rough day, we’re doing it for the kids. So let’s remember our common goals, and laugh and work together. I suggest we start with high fives.
Everyone loves high fives.
*Not a real name, unfortunately.