Saturday, March 26, 2016

Civics 101

With a week's vacation from teaching I return to my steady diet of CNN. For a few days, election coverage is preempted by the attacks in Brussels. This reminds me of the world's precariousness. I feel guilty for following the election mainly for cheap entertainment as certain wannabee presidents suggest torture and patrolling “Muslim neighborhoods.” Are there Muslim neighborhoods? Now the headlines show photos of the candidates wives, one in the buff and one caught with a very unfortunate facial expression. Apparently the naked photo of Melania Trump is posted by a PAC and without the consent of Ted Cruz. Trump however tweets the lousy picture of Heidi side by side with a glamor shot of Melania. Ted Cruz blows a gasket. I wonder if this is an aberration or whether the American political process is destined now to forever play out like reality TV.

I am required to instruct my students in basic civics. I feel that one facet of my responsibility is to be an ambassador and booster for the American way. This is a challenge given that even Spanish language radio is filled with reports about the xenophobic rantings of those who would be president. I imagine my students perceive of American elections as being like Telenovelas. Many of the intricacies of how we got to this place elude me and it is really impossible to explain much to my Level 1 ESL students.

While assembling some materials about the election for my students I've learned some stuff that I probably should have already known. For example, I never fully understood how primary caucuses work. In most states, registered voters can select a specific party on the night of the caucus. The proceedings are held debate style. Prospective delegates can either identify with a specific candidate or remain uncommitted. The voting is either by a show of hands or participants are separated into groups and issued ballots to select delegates. Unlike a primary election, caucus ballots are not secret. Also, while elections are under the aegis of the government, caucuses are organized by political parties.

California, and eleven other states, hold closed primaries and only voters who are registered with a party are permitted to vote. Twelve states, mostly southern, have open primaries allowing voters to cast a vote regardless of party affiliation. The twenty six other states have a “hybrid” system. Procedures vary from state to state. Some permit voters to cross party lines. In others, voters affirm their affiliation based on the ballot selected.The power of the parties vary from state to state and in some, the parties themselves dictate the eligibility of voters in the primary elections. Some Republican elections result in “winner take all”allotment, and in others the allocation is proportional. For all Democratic primaries, delegate votes are divided proportionately.

Superdelegate votes have way more significance at the Democratic convention. After the 1968 Chicago convention the Democrats attempted to make the selection process more democratic and sensitive to the wishes of the voters. This experiment, in 1976 resulted in the nomination of outsider Jimmy Carter, against the wishes of many of the party elites. In order to return some control to the party, Superdelegates we implemented in 1984.
There are approximately 719 Democratic superdelegates: governors, members of congress and lots of highly placed muckety mucks. The Republicans have fewer delegates, only three party reps from each state. Furthermore, unlike the Dems, Republican superdelegates can only vote for the candidate that prevailed in their home state primary or caucus. Neither party has government affiliation and both are free to determine the number of delegates and how votes are distributed.

Each state's number of Electors is determined by the most recent census. Electors, like delegates, are chosen based on service to the party. In most states Electoral College votes are winner-take-all but in a handful, votes are assigned proportionately. The Supreme Court decided that political parties can exact pledges from Electors and hold them to it. In some states, “faithless Electors”--those jumping ship-- are subject to disqualification or fines. As Electors are typically highly placed in their parties, this is a rare occurrence. Also infrequent is a candidate losing the popular vote but prevailing due to the Electoral College. This happened three times in the 19th century and once, very memorably, in the beginning of the 21sst. Although in the more recent contest, if the Supreme Court hadn't halted the Florida recount, Gore might have realized a majority in the Electoral College votes as well.

Scalia was among the justices who handed Bush the presidency. There are numerous other blemishes to his legacy like Citizen's United and Hobby Lobby. His death however does not necessarily make for a leftier leaning court. Until the vacancy is filled, the result of a 4/4 split on a decision is tantamount to the case had never having been heard at all. However, these split decisions only applly to the region of the circuit court where the case is initiated. For example, if the Supreme Court is split on upholding Texas's extremely restrictive abortion laws, the law will only be upheld in the region of the 5th Circuit Court-Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. This decision however would be perceived as a green light for other states to enact legislation to restrict abortion.

Obama's choice of Merrick Garland to replace Scalia is so cunning it almost feels evil. Garland presided over the Oklahoma City Bombing case and tends to lean on the side of law and order. He has been lauded as an outstanding justice by highly placed Republicans. As the party continues to crack apart, the likelihood of a liberal in the White House increases, Obama is taunting the GOP with this middle of the road candidate. A white man, no less. And it 63, Garland is the oldest nominee in over forty years, so there's the added bonus that even if he is too liberal, at least he has an earlier expiration date. Yet, the proclamation has been made that no nominee of Obama's will be considered. I suspect that by the second Wednesday in November, if not sooner, there will be some reconsidering with regard to Garland's consideration, After the way he's been treated by the legislature, I think too that Obama deserves a good laugh.

The machinations of the American political behemoth often make no sense to me. I have to boil it down to the rudimentary basics for my students. I've managed to convey that there are two parties and that now we're trying to choose one candidate from each for the election in November. They hear however on Spanish language radio, a barrage reports of American candidates spewing contempt for immigrants. I hope that November proves that the majority of voters are too smart to foist the blame for an economy, ravaged by corporate greed and malfeasance, onto the backs of those who simply seek a better life. But, if Trump or Cruz is actually elected, perhaps deportation won't seem like such a bad option. 

Friday, March 18, 2016

St. Patrick's Day in Boyle Heights

After two weeks of adult school teaching I have a one week vacation. I am relieved but concerned about my stamina when I return for a ten week stretch. I discover that I am likely not eligible to teach summer school and am not grief stricken. I am trying to be good-natured and focus on the students but worrying about planning effective lessons and witnessing the district's ineptitude and the squandering of resources I spend much of the time outside of the classroom in a petulant, irritated state.

I am out of the loop timeline-wise but I know that California pretty much decimated adult education and many schools were closed. Then, there was a reorganization. Instead of individually administered schools, the division has been divided into ten service areas each with a single principal. A service area operates a number of schools and satellite classes. I teach at Roosevelt Adult School, which is on the campus of Roosevelt High. The school is administered by the East Los Angeles Service Area. Also under the aegis of this service area are the Eastside Learning Center, The East Los Angeles Occupational Center and the East Los Angeles Skill Center.

As a native English speaker and long time Internet user the Service Area website is confounding and in a microscopic font. It takes me far more time that it should to locate the street addresses for these three unique East-side facilities. The reason that I need find these individual branches is that there is a form that I must sign in person at one school. I ask if perhaps a scan might be acceptable or if the form can be sent to me at my school location but there is no flexibility. The teacher's edition for my textbook is at another one of the Easts. I am eager for it so I brave rush hour traffic to fetch it and arrive at my own class winded, with just seconds to spare. As it turns out, the teacher's edition provides almost no enrichment for the coursework. Finally, I am issued a district laptop from the third facility. Unfortunately, the processor is about fifteen years old so it's useless.

Students are issued a five part carbonized forms when they register. I am to collect the blue (bottom) copy when the students arrive at my class, although the forms are all illegible. These are the student copies and I am to receive a different copy at some point and return the blue copies to the students. The first week I just have the students sign in on a blank sheet of paper and record the total number in the office before leaving the school.

The second week I am issued a printed bubble-in attendance sheet with several pages of instructions. In two weeks I am to attend a workshop, crosstown, to be trained to complete computerized attendance. As it turns out, about half of my students, including sweet Maria who helps me clean up and hugs me every night after class, are enrolled incorrectly. My roll sheet, I learn has one seven digit number that represents level 1A and a different for 1B. The other teachers are annoyed that I haven't noticed this error, despite having had the attendance sheet for only a day and being completely unfamiliar with this coding process. The counselor comes in and tells me to send about half of my class to the office. I note that one woman is quite advanced and has no trouble keeping up with the best students but I am told that she will not be able to advance without taking a test.

Part of my processing at the district, even though I will be working only with adults, consists of watching a video about mandatory child abuse reporting. As soon as I receive my district e-mail address, I am notified that I must also complete an additional online course on child abuse reporting, which I do and am issued a certificate for. On Tuesday I am informed that there is a mandatory meeting the following day. I dismiss class early and go to one of the Easts (Occupational Center, I think). We are handed sheaths of color printed copies. The exact material is also on a Powerpoint presentation which is read aloud. There is a group discussion. We are given different scenarios and are to discuss whether the situation merits mandatory reporting. Unfortunately, the scenarios lack salient details, like the ages of the kids involved, so it most cases it is impossible to make determinations. The assistant principal moderating the session is wishy washy and non-committal.

After the child abuse section is complete, there is a safety presentation. Again, there's a big stack of color printed (and illegible) copies accompanied by an identical Powerpoint presentation and again, we read aloud from the screen. We are instructed about the dangers of slipping on ice or standing on the top rung of a ladder. I understand that the district has a legal obligation to provide mandatory child abuse and safety training but I am disgusted by the amount of wasted manpower and paper. I think how much easier and effectively these requirements could be fulfilled online with a video presentation followed by a series of questions.

The actual teaching is hit and miss. I've struggled with the disparate level of ability, not realizing that about half of my students have been in too advanced a class for the last two weeks. The text and workbooks offend me aesthetically but the coverage of basic concepts isn't bad. The accompanying audio CD has singing exercises, called “Grammar Rap,” that I could live without. This week we work on “this/that” and “these/those.” My Hispanic students struggle with the “th” sound and it often comes out sounding like a “d”. I get right down in their faces and show them where my tongue hits my teeth and this results in an improvement and obligates me to purchase of breath mints in Costco quantities.

I listen to Spanish language radio. I try to avoid using Spanish while teaching but before and after class there are questions that are too complicated for my students to express with their limited English. Spanish talk radio also gives me an insight into the priorities of the L.A. Hispanic community. Despite my first grade Spanish, it is clear, even on ostensibly neutral newscasts, that there is widespread fear and hatred of Trump. I try to break down the complicated election and I can tell by the body language that I've engaged the class. The next night I print out a schedule of state primaries and caucuses and delegate numbers. This proves to be too much information and they are confused and bored.

It's hard to figure out what's going to work and what isn't. Some of the lessons to augment the textbook that I spend hours creating, bomb. One of the best sessions is spent pretty much just using the textbook. More than anything, I want a document projector that I can connect to my laptop. When hired for the position I am informed that my classroom is equipped with this but it isn't the case. I am told by various functionaries that there are none, they are all being repaired or that I'd have to requisition one, which would take about a year. I am about to purchase my own on Ebay. There is yet another form to sign at one of the Easts. I recognize an assistant principal I'd met before and she informs me that there is a document presenter and projector with my name on it at another of the Easts.

I pick up the equipment, and being more than a little technologically challenged, I bring it to my office for instruction. My employees painstakingly label and number all of the connections and I practice again and again putting everything together, operating it and then breaking it down to go back in the case.

I wait for the connector for my Macbook and I use just the projector in the classroom to project pages from the textbook, writing the correct answers on a transparency. Unfortunately, the only markers I have are super thick so I project the page from the book covered with thick black illegible blobs. There are only thick pens in the office. And when I inquire about cleaning the used transparencies I am told to use baby wipes. So, as is the case with much of the material needed to use in the classroom, I buy my own.

The last night before vacation is St. Patrick's Day. I tell all of the students to wear green. I bake a batch of shamrock cookies and feel superior when I notice that the teacher next door has purchased hers from the Ralph's. A little party the night before spring vacation seems entirely appropriate but all that my students know about St. Pats is that people get drunk. There are a lot of teaching materials on the net but the low level reading stuff is juvenile and the more sophisticated material is way beyond their grasp. I've never done a Powerpoint presentation but I cobble one together that emphasizes the experiences of Irish immigrants to America. I find videos and images and music, figuring that we'll devote the last hour of class to this presentation. Number One Son, realistically appraising my technological retardedness, suggests I not attempt to embed any video into the presentation and instead, just stream it from the cloud.

Having no faith in my electronic capabilities, I prepare some worksheets about St. Pat's, just in case the Powerpoint won't play. As I get ready to leave, I spill a whole glass of iced coffee all over the lessons and have to rush to reprint them. Un-caffinated, I hurry off to school. I will add that the iced coffee ruins the remote, a huge annoyance, despite my curtailed TV watching.

I have not used my laptop in conjunction with the projector. I arrive at school and am told that there is indeed wifi but that there's only one teacher who can successfully input the password. I carry my laptop to him and he, from memory, enters a string of about 30 characters, and voila! I am online. Unfortunately, the district wifi blocks my access to the cloud. I figure out however how to use my phone as a hotspot.

The students enjoy the presentation. Irish dancing, not particularly my cup of tea, is a huge hit and they're astounded to see the Chicago River dyed green for St. Pats. The tour of the Guinness Factory is received with particular enthusiasm.  Later in the class, as vocabulary proves challenging I am able to pull up Google images of fairies, monasteries and ribbons. Chatting with another teacher, he reveals that there's been a projector and document reader in his class all year, but he doesn't use them. Having mastered the projector, I can't imagine not having Internet access in the classroom.

Attendance was hugely important during my previous teaching stint. If your class attendance dipped below fifteen, you were out. This is no longer the focus. What's important now are how the students fare on a series of tests. The curriculum states the objectives and even indicates how much class time should be devoted to each skill. The textbook contains only a portion of the material that the students are expected to master. It concerns me, as a virtual neophyte, that the supplemental materials I provide are effective. And, as the teacher's manual for my text is quite spartan, I worry too that I am using the textbook to optimum advantage.

I'm sure I'm more apprehensive about the testing process than the students are. Use of the computer and projector will likely increase my effectiveness but I still feel very green. Three decades ago when I began teaching, I was told that for all intents and purposes, a first year teacher is useless. Due to the sea change in adult education this is the equivalent, I guess, of a first year. Most of my students come straight from work, some still in uniform. The $40 cost of the textbook is a hardship for many. I know that my lack of recent experience is a huge impediment and it will break my heart if anyone in my class isn't advanced to the next level. Maria tells me that she's going to study as hard as she can in order to pass the test to qualify for my class. We both have our work cut out for us.

Friday, March 11, 2016


I survive my first Oscars without my friend Richard but the dead celebrity thing is way more than an annual event. I never thought I'd cry at Nancy Reagan's death but she was on Richard's LAST GASP list and if I'd been the first to notify him I would have won a dollar. I can hear him saying, “Ohhhh Nancy! That's a big one!” Even though it's only the first quarter of 2016, Nancy would likely be the dead celebrity of the year. As I glance at the most recent top fifty list, published 6-13-15, only a few, Kirk Douglas, Clint Eastwood and Debbie Reynolds might give her a run for the money. For the rest of my life I will feel sad whenever someone famous dies, even if it isn't anyone I particularly admire.

The other huge life transition is that now I am, for the first time in over twenty years, a real teacher. I sub again at a charter middle school near Vernon. Green Dot is a non-profit with some high roller backing that runs a series of charters, mainly for disadvantaged students. The facility is modern, meticulous and beautifully equipped. The kids wear uniforms and for the most part, are polite and cooperative. I have 6th and 7th grade reading and composition classes. The teacher's lesson plan is elusive and when it finally turns up it is a photocopy of the Rudyard Kipling story, “Rikki Tikki Tavi.” I notice that most of the reading materials in the classroom are at about a third or fourth grade level. I hope that the choice of this extremely long story, chock-a-block with arcane language was just hastily thrown together, a temporary lapse in judgment of an otherwise competent teacher. My training emphasizes sticking to the lesson plan provided as closely as possible so I end up just reading the story aloud to all five classes, not even finishing it for a couple of the periods. I don't really get a chance to gauge the kids' level of understanding. I use funny voices for all the animals. They sit still and listen but I'm not sure whether they've been indoctrinated to do this or they actually understand the travails of a mongoose in colonial India. When Rikki Tikki saves the family from the cobra the big man calls it “providence.” I don't even bother to explain. After having read the thing aloud five times in a row I conclude that it is not a very good story. I don't believe that classic literature should be branded inaccessible and banished from the canon and but perhaps it's time to at least rethink the efficacy of Rikki Tikki Tavi.

My adult ESL class is scheduled to begin on Monday. My assignment is at Roosevelt High, in Boyle Heights, where I taught over thirty years ago. There is a rush of joy and nostalgia while I traverse Breed and Fickett and Matthews Streets and find the dowdy Adult School office completely unchanged after three decades. I wonder if my affection for L.A.'s legit Eastside-not Silver Lake or Echo Park--is patronizing or condescending in some fashion, like George Bush referring to “the little brown ones.” But I think there's just a natural cultural affinity. I note to Himself, during our travels, that while I am fond of Ireland, I never feel any particular connection. In Italy, however I feel truly myself. Woody Allen nailed it in Interiors. The expressive and colorful Jewess, Maureen Stapleton, is considered a vulgarian by her boyfriend's Waspy family. I like gaudy colors, spicy food, big emotion and Boyle Heights.

I am not notified that my fingerprints have cleared and I am authorized to teach but the principal says to just hope for the best. I am in the classroom setting up for the first session, which starts at 6 p.m. At 5:55 my phone rings and I am informed that I am fully cleared. Charter schools apparently have eaten into the enrollment at Roosevelt and an entire section of bungalows is now dedicated to the adult school. I have my own classroom, such as it is. The paint is peeling, the floor sticky and the venetian blinds are rusted and tattered. Huge sections of the whiteboards are gouged so there is only a minimum of writing surface. I arrange the desks and tables and put up a few posters.

Based on the detailed curriculum I've been provided and the frequency of testing, I see that the instruction is more formulaic and rigorous than it was thirty years ago. I study the curriculum slavishly and prepare four nights' worth of lessons. The textbooks are a pricy 40 bucks so I decide to give the students a week to purchase them. The computer and projector I've been promised for the classroom are absent so I am relegated to photocopies and the usable section of the white-board. I have been instructed not to photocopy the textbook so I create several lessons of my own and find a few ESL printables on the net. I plan some lessons based on materials the curriculum suggests reviewing. The first night I only have seven students. We review the alphabet and I have prepared a lesson on like/don't like. I've included pictures of Donald Trump and El Chapo which are a huge hit and it's unanimous “”I don't like Donald Trump. I don't like El Chapo.”

The class has been tested and all are deemed prepared for the second part of ESL I. Some of the students meet this criteria, others are actually more advanced and a handful are completely clueless. A lot of the students speak English regularly and comfortably at their jobs but have minimal reading and writing skills. The twenty-somethings pick up on stuff immediately. Those who are around my age struggle to keep up. The enrollment is open so there are new students every night and as this is a working population, many are unable to attend every night of the week.

Teaching adult school was indeed one of the most satisfying experiences of my life but after so many years I'd idealized it. It is an enormous amount of work. The class is two and half hours a night, four nights a week. I feel like a performer having to come up with fresh and engaging materials enough to fill ten full hours every week. If people are dragging their asses there after working a full day it should be worth their while. Some of the lessons I've made are effective and the students like them. Others bomb and are boring or confusing. Certain projects that I expect will take about five minutes take an hour. Lessons that I expect will take up most of the class are milked dry after a few minutes. Tuesday a few more students are added so there are fifteen total. Things go pretty well although it becomes very clear that many of the concepts that I'm expected to review are completely new and require more than a cursory refresher.

Wednesday is a heart breaker. Only eight students show up. Half are way too advanced for what I'm presenting and half are utterly lost. Exhausted, I look at the clock and realize I have another half hour and not much of any substance to fill it with. Temporarily stricken with Tourette's I mutter, “God I suck. What am I going to do now?” Fortunately I don't think many of the students understand this. I stumble on a few materials to review until mercifully it's time to dismiss.

The teacher next door is an old timer. I complain to her about having lost half my class and the widely disparate levels of ability. She invites me into her classroom and shows me the Easter posters her adult students have made by gluing white cotton balls onto pictures of bunnies. I have been trying to get an adult school teaching job for over two years. Many of my students aren't at the point where the curriculum indicates they should be. Others rush through the lessons with ease and look up at me to get on with it. I can't get behind sticking cotton balls on rabbit asses and it seems like I'll never hit my stride.

Maria is about my age. She attends every night, painstakingly copying everything I write on the board into her notebook while having no idea what it means. I know that I should send her back to the more basic class but she is so diligent and sweet natured I'm afraid she'd be crushed. After class she helps me pick up some assignments and we talk. While I diss the teachers I'd observed for translating everything into Spanish I admit that I've been stymied a couple of times and in desperation have resorted to a Spanish translation while telling the students that I shouldn't be doing it. Maria starts to chat with me in Spanish and I work on persuading her to try her English. She resists until after class, realizing the limitations of my Spanish she explains, pretty much in English, that her son, a graduate of Roosevelt High School is about to graduate with a degree in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz. It turns out that her son was born within days of my eldest. She tells me that she comes to school because her kids insist.

Thursday is easier. I have fifteen students. I talk to a young Salvadorean couple, Eduardo and Heidi. They've been here four months. They have a seven year old boy who they say has pretty much mastered English already. Eduardo has a masters degree in business administration. Now he works stocking shelves in a Korean market, happy to have a job, but sorry it offers no opportunity to practice his English. We play a bingo game to review household objects and colors. I teach them some texting abbreviations like TTYL, BFFL and TMI. Maria helps me clean up after class. She tells me that her son has arrived home for spring break. She can't wait to see him but he insists that she not skip class. But that's ok with her she says because, “I love my teacher.”

Number One Son has been offered a permanent position working in audio restoration. I return home from teaching and he is stretched out on the couch playing Grand Theft Auto. He pauses the game to check in with me. I tell him about the lady who can barely read or write whose son is about to graduate from UC Santa Cruz and how proud she must be. “I know how proud I am of you,” I add and (as we both majored in film at the same college) “all you ever did was what I did.” “Yeah,” he agrees, but adds, that unlike me, he has a 401k.

Friday, March 4, 2016

True Grit

I get through my first Oscars in decades without Richard's notes, predictions and ballots. Instead of sitting down for our traditional lengthy Monday morning recap I am sent to a nearby charter middle school to sub for a reading teacher. The campus is modern and well equipped. The kids, about 90% Hispanic, wear uniforms. I scrawl my name and “Happy Monday!” on the whiteboard and am reminded that I've never had that nice teacher handwriting.

The teacher has left a lesson. Not a scintillating one but a lesson nevertheless. The students are referred to as “cohorts” which conjures to me “partners in crime” and I assume she's being a little jokey. There is a story to read about a child, a Mexican migrant and his precious pennies and tiny reading book. After completing the story via silent reading, there is a worksheet. A couple of the boys are dicks but with a bit of calm firmness I manage to get them on task. At around 9 a woman comes in and leaves a large insulated shopping bag. The kids tell me it's their breakfast. There are pints of milk, cereal bars and apples. Some of the kids eat a bit but most aren't interested in any of the offerings. The delivery lady returns about an hour later and dumps all of the untouched, uneaten food, dozens of milk pints, cereal bars and apples into the trash.

I get through three periods unscathed and feel that this is something I can handle. I have a half hour lunch break during which I must attend to business at the office. The salad I've brought from home spills all over the floor and I wish I'd grabbed an apple and a few cereal bars before they were disposed of. I am complacent and relaxed, albeit hungry, having survived the morning. I lose it however with the class after lunch. There are about six boys who never settle down. They are rude and belligerent and mock me and it requires a Herculean effort not to lose my cool with these thirteen-year-olds. One girl is unsteady. Her eyes are blood red and her pupils huge. She finally passes out at her desk. I consider calling the office but am frightened to bring further drama to a classroom so teetering on chaos so I just let her sit hunched over and drooling on the desk until dismissal time.

When I was in my twenties I worked at a Compton middle school but a lifetime later, I am rusty. In retrospect I realize I should not have been lulled into submission by three very manageable classes. As soon as I sense that all hell could break loose it is time to either bag or rework the lesson plan to make sure that there is something more than silent reading to engage the kids. And if there's another disaster I will change my preference to only high school.

My battle with L.A. Unified to be instated in an Adult E.S.L. position continues.
The processing person who henceforth I will refer to as Bitch Lady (although I have actually referred to her in even stronger language that I don't recall ever having used in my life.) is officious and snide. Initially the confusion begins when the school neglects to inform me that I've been hired. When I am finally notified I must arrange to be processed into the district. Bitch Lady is impossible to reach. The few emails she does actually respond to instruct me to call her. She is very busy. I should not waste her time with e-mail. She says that she can talk faster than type. When I do call there is usually no voice mail. On about the tenth try there is a voice mail greeting and it is about a week until she responds to my message. One delay is that she fails to tell me that I need a physical. After I've submitted results of the physical exam and TB Test to the district she finally returns my call only to inform me that my life credential to teach English is no longer valid to teach English and that I must document 40 undergraduate units of English coursework. At no small expense I arrange to have my forty year old transcripts sent by Fed Ex.

Figuring that eventually I may be processed I keep an appointment to observe an adult ESL class in East L.A. to get up to speed. The assistant principal who arranges the visit informs me that these are two of their most experienced teachers. Both of the instructors are about my age and incredibly welcoming. They offer me a lot of materials and course outlines. I observe both of them teaching. One has written the date on the board and spelled out “nineth.” The other does a grammar lessons on plurals and teaches the rule of adding “es” to a word that ends with “o.” She gives tomatoes and potatoes as examples. Unfortunately, avocado is also on the list. Both of the teachers spend most of the teaching session sitting in a chair. Also, they translate all of the material into Spanish, despite a smattering of Asian students. I've been out of the classroom forever but I still think you're supposed to teach standing up and moving around the room and that it doesn't really help folks to become reliant on Spanish translation. And,if the new method of teaching beginning ESL emphasizes the memorization of grammar rules instead of just practical communication I will be a renegade.

After not reaching Bitch Lady's voice mail after about ten attempts I send a very nice note to the principal apologizing for the delay which I attribute to Bitch Lady's apparently enormous workload. I will disclose that I am hired for this job, after not having been in the classroom for over twenty years, due to nothing other than name-dropping, adding that those whose names I drop know that I am actually a very competent teacher. The principal phones me seconds after I send the e-mail. “You're all processed,” she informs me. I explain that this is impossible because I haven't even been fingerprinted or had my credential registered. She notices that my name is listed as Lynne Murphy and not Layne Murphy although my address and telephone number is correct. I am instructed to call one of the big adult division honchos. He takes my call immediately and informs me that Bitch Lady's schedule is absolutely open the next day and he writes me in on her calendar for nine a.m.

After waiting an hour, Bitch Lady saunters out and asks for my paperwork. Although she has to verify the validity of my credential online herself she demands that I print a copy at the waiting room computer. Staff scurry around trying to find the computer passwords and when they do, I am unable to get online. When I finally connect and am able to locate my credential at the Office of Teacher Credentialing she marches out before I am able to push print, irritated that I've taken so long. and pushes me away in order to print it herself.

Then she has difficulty with my transcripts. There are no grades or units. “I can't prove that you have forty units of English.” I explain that it's clear that more than 25% of my coursework was in English and in that I was issued a bachelor's degree I must have accomplished the equivalent of 40 units. This just irritates her. Unless I can get the school to confirm that each course is worth 4 units she will not process me. She agrees that if she can reach someone at the college by phone she will validate my credential. She proceeds to photocopy all 80 pages of my transcript. Fortunately Number One Son is a recent graduate. He provides me with direct phone numbers for the college director and registrar. I attempt to offer these number to Bitch Lady to save her the time of going through the switchboard, as she photocopies. She informs me curtly that she will speak to me when she is ready and that I am to return to my seat. I leave messages, trying to give the director and registrar a heads up and wait. Bitch Lady has already informed me that she is off work on Friday so unless I can get confirmation about the unit equivalency I will be unable to start my class on Monday.

By this time I have waited over four hours. I suspect that my principal has made a bit of a stink about Bitch Lady processing the wrong teacher. One of the higher ups in the adult division comes looking for me in the waiting room. She says she just wants to make sure that everything is going fine. I am near tears when I report to her about how truly not fine things are going. Within minutes, her boss, the nice man I'd spoken to the day before, comes out. Being familiar with Santa Cruz and other alternative colleges he has no problem with the transcripts. He says that it would be good to have something from the school but that I'm fine to start teaching as soon as my fingerprints clear.

He walks me over to the mandatory child abuse reporting video. By the time that's done, the fingerprint person has left for lunch so I wait an hour for her to return. Despite having filled out about thirty forms, apparently Bitch Lady hasn't given me the correct ones for the fingerprinting processes. Fingerprint lady is beyond annoyed as she must traverse twenty five feet to get the correct forms. In that I have forms to complete I lose my place in line and have to wait about another hour. Fingerprint lady has a big sign that says “22 Days to Go!” and a photo of herself wearing a t-shirt that says “Straight Outta Beaudry” (The enormous administrative complex is on Beaudry Street). She is very fussy about where I stand and how I hold my hands while she records my fingerprints. Several weeks ago I undergo another Live Scan for my sub job and it's explained that the older you are, the more lined your hands become and it is harder to get good prints. The computer beeps “reject” again and again. If I weren't so exhausted and she weren't so rough about moving my hands over the screen I probably would have been tickled to fuck with her a bit.

I am cautiously optimistic that I will become an official LAUSD instructor but after the demeaning processing I'm too low and disgusted by the bureaucracy and mean-spiritedness to be really stoked. Nevertheless, I try to get as many errands taken care of to free me up to lesson plan and teach. Kitten Harry, who, with his litter-mate Jerry, has been such an enormous comfort during these months of nearly unbearable loss, has been treated for a fever and eye condition. He seems improved but his eyes still look funny and he isn't playful. I take him back to the vet for a recheck. Despite moving around and eating normally, he is running a high fever and his labs indicate leukemia. The vet feels that he cannot be cured and will shortly begin to waste and suffer. He is euthanized. Himself and I are devastated, having lost Gary the cat, not to mention a dear lifetime friend within the last months.

The ESL coordinator for my school asks me to attend an orientation session. Between the day of processing and the loss of sweet Harry I am weary. Nevertheless, I head over to Roosevelt High, where I taught about thirty years ago. The Adult School office, except for a couple of computers is completely unchanged and I remember things I haven't thought about in years. The coordinator is earnest and whip smart. There is another new teacher too and we are loaded up with materials. I notice that the word “cohort” is used on a lot of the schedules so I guess that's a new buzzword and that the teacher I subbed for wasn't being ironic. Also, there seems to be a big thing about “binders.” The district office requires me to complete about forty different forms. Stacks and stacks of file boxes line the halls. Teachers and students are supposed to have binders for everything. The teaching methods and emphasis really does seem progressive but the system seems light years away from being forest friendly.

The emphasis has changed and ESL is now treated as the first step towards either an academic or vocational trajectory rather than just a genial couple hours to learn a bit of English. I never much liked the materials we were provided with and usually made my own. Now, the books and worksheet I've been given are terrific, focusing on real life skills like filling out forms, ordering a pizza or navigating the DMV. I will have my own classroom with a computer, projector and any other materials I need are readily at hand.

We are taken on a tour of the campus. It is the last week of the trimester. If my fingerprints clear I will be teaching the first night of the next session. Most of the students are in the cafeteria. They are eating and celebrating and getting certificates for having completed coursework. I remember how happy I was in this place so many years ago and tear up. There are indeed assholes and nincompoops and old school teachers locked into speaking Spanish and teaching grammar but the students are awesome. Most come to class after working a full day. English is a hard language. I realize this particularly when I hear what many native speakers do to it. ESL students often haven't gone beyond grade school in their home countries. Many come from rural communities. I can't begin to fathom how daunting and weird Los Angeles must be. Even signing up to take an English class must pose a challenge. Lately studies measure not only student's intelligence but also “grit” as a determiner for success. After a trying week I am comforted knowing that in a small way I will be able to make this overwhelming city a bit easier to navigate for people who are eager to learn and possess an abundance of grit.