Tuesday, September 11, 2007

"Have a better day!" and "Are you nervous?"

I thought today was going to be hard. This was the first on-site day of my 20 hour per week internship course, the first three weeks of which I will aid and teach at a high school for at-risk students and disciplinary cases here in Provo. I expected the dregs. I braced myself all weekend for an inevitable barage of obscenity, drugs, cruelty, promiscuity, insert favorite social depravity here. Quite tragically, my difficulties began much earlier than the morning bell today, let me tell you.

I had to be at my assigned school by 7:40 this morning, 15 minutes before the first period bell rang. I didn't sleep well last night, but I did leave myself enough time in the morning to run up to the Y to print off my resume for my mentor. Of course, the printing network was down. Campus-wide. So I hopped back in my rusty-chic Acura Legend and frantically called my roommates to see who had bothered to hook up a printer since we moved in. Bless her, Katie had, so I careened down 700 E., narrowly dodging the UTA buses that crash indifferently around Provo. Now, the aforementioned rusty-chic Acura Legend is quite stylish, and so sits rather low to the ground. It is also about as broad and long as a sedan can be legally, if legal limits exist, which is an argument for another time. Anyway, actually getting my car into and then parking it in our basement garage is such a headache, involving a complicated maneuver of pulling in and backing up about seven times. Thinking this would be a quick trip inside, I parked my Acura in front of the dumpster just south of my building. I flew up the stairs, burst into Katie's room in a whirlwind, waited for my overburdened iBook G4 to wake up, waited for the computer to recognize the printer, waited for the print job to send... A hurry up and wait situation. I was looking at 7:35 by that point. If I floored it, I would be just a minute or two late. I turned around, ran out of my place and down the two flights of stairs, only to see my beauty of a car hooked up to a tow truck. Argh...

Of course, there is a wonderful thing called a "half tow," so the guy dropped my car for $60.50. Now, I needed my car, but I hate throwing away money like that, especially because of my own stupidity. $60.50 is 7.5625 untaxed work hours for me. I still feel sick about it, but at that point, what could I have done? The poor tow guy was so sweet; he asked me if I was late for work, which was admittedly an awkward and somewhat unnecessary question, as I was standing there in gray slacks, a white button-down shirt, pearl earrings, and black dress shoes. I even blow-dried and straightened my hair today! C'mon. Duh. At least he was trying to soothe my obviously flustered soul. It wasn't much of a balm, but then beggars can't be choosers.

"No," I answered, "First day of an internship." This is going to sound masochistic, but I was kind of pleased with the gravity of my response. This was serious business. I was really impressed with how quickly he worked to get my car free from the blasted truck. His parting shot: "Have a better day!" I think it's one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me. He wasn't much older than me, and my one prior experience with a tow guy was less than agreeable. I think I'm going to write University Parking Enforcement a note asking them to thank that kid for me. Nobody is happy to see a tow truck, but he had the perfect demeanor for a tow truck driver/operator. Not many people can claim that, you know.

Alright, so on to the school. Though I was 10 minutes late for the first day, the other girl from BYU with the same school assignment had been on time but had only sat there in the main office, so I felt the clouds begin to part a bit. Almost as soon as I stepped into the office and announced myself, I was hustled out to my mentor's classroom. Fate worked her magic once again. I have been placed with the embodiment (albeit Latina, and I am very, if not lamentably, Anglo) of my vision for myself as a teacher. Shule (pronounced SOO-lay) is a perfect mentor for me. I'll be helping with her first four periods. Her first class of the day is ESOL, which is what I am studying for my minor (TESOL K-12). Ahhh-leluia! It's going to be a good way for me to brush up on my Spanish and continue my ESL work. Second period requires us to migrate to "Containment," which I'll explain in a moment. Third period is a school wide study hall period. They run announcements and Channel One (a national adolescent news channel broadcast in schools), and let everyone catch his/her breath and get themselves caught up on work. A great idea, especially when the school day is disproportionately split around lunch. Fourth period is standard freshman English. Well, standard for this school. I guess it's pretty unique held against the rest of the school district.

Okay, so "Containment" is an interesting thing. You would think that isolating these students in a special school for their specific behavioral needs would be extreme enough to create a constructive environment for learning. Apparently, not so for some students. This school has a portable classroom called "Containment" that is for students who, even in the "last straw" school, have found a way to label themselves as the troubled students. I was a little disturbed by the concept, especially when these students were very pleasant to me. Sure, everyone looked a bit rough around the edges, but no one was outwardly offensive. Oh well, trust the system I s'pose.

I've been interested to learn that students at this school are placed here for a variety of reasons. One of my ESOL students, at the ripe old age of 17, has a baby boy, and was transferred to this school to help spare her from her peers at her mainstream high school during her pregnancy, as well as to accomodate her schedule now, as she needs to nurse and somehow be a mother, even though I thought she was a freshman when I first saw her. I read some of her written work today. I was so moved and frustrated at the same time. If the strain of being a single teenage mother isn't enough already, add the stress of being the only illegal alien in your family. Her parents and brother's papers have all been processed, but hers hasn't gone through yet. She wanted to marry her baby's father, but the INS told her they would cancel her paperwork and she would have to start over if she did. And yet this girl has dreams of being a Registered Nurse, loves to get involved in Student Council, and has already started courses at a junior college. These kids are bright and have incredible potential. Some have met uncontrollable road blocks, and many more have made a few major mistakes that have dead-ended them. I don't know where to start. Grammar and formal letter structure seem so trivial. These kids need serious life coaching, life overhaul. But I guess that's what these teachers are doing, in a way. Shule is a great example of providing safe, constructive outlets for the anger many of these students feel about where both life and mistakes have brought them. It's therapeutic, and the intimate classes (8-18 students) allow for a high level of interaction and purposeful exchange of ideas.

Put your hands up and step away from the soapbox. One of my first period kids raised his hand after I introduced myself and asked me, with a smirk, "Are you nervous?" How subtly he tested my boundaries... I looked him square in the eyes and said, loudly, "NO." I really wasn't. I'm kind of glad my car almost got towed. I was so freaked out about that, I didn't have the energy to waste on jitters. I just marched in, got pushed in front of a class, and set off running.

I love what I have decided to do with my life. Day 1 done.

1 comment:

jhpmusic said...

you are a beautiful person inside and out. I know that those kids will benefit SO much having you there. They are lucky. I half wish I was one of those troubled youth seeking a better life... :) Anyway, way to go on your first day. You're great!