Saturday, October 12, 2013

Teachers' Cafeteria--Part II

Teachers' Cafeteria
Part II

And as I rose from torpor,
With the work ahead surmised,
A figure walked before me,
That I scarcely recognized.

It was a teacher, who was walking,
As the sun was set to rise.
There was Orion, high above him.
It was watching the unwise.

How many had been like him,
Who would never think to shirk,
Oblivious to the madness,
As they hurried to their work?

But his days of work till midnight,
And the bracing air, on exit,
And the bus-ride home in darkness,
That has ended.  Time would nix it...

And his risings, in the darkness,
And the walks to get the bus,
With their Orions and their dawnings,
Were they real – or dreamings, just?

Another school, another time,
Perhaps another me?
How many have another chance,
A teacher, still, to be?

The memory comes and holds me,
As I pause upon the stair,
And then, I see its passing,
And I still do not despair.

I then mount the stairs with effort,
As so many teachers do,
Who are aging, while in harness,
For there's work that's left to do.

2013 October 12th, Sat.
Bensonhurst, Brooklyn
(after finding, at home, the verses for Part I scribbled, 

in faded pencil, on a crumpled cafeteria napkin in 
September's lesson-planning notebook)

This is a continuation of:

   Teachers' Cafeteria--Part I

The New Utrecht HS teacher's cafeteria was previously on the sixth floor of the school building.  From this high location, we could see (if we could make it up there during our short lunch break) the changing sky, birds in flight, and Brooklyn's streets, houses and trees, stretched out below.  We could also see the comings and goings of the silver commuter trains (on what are currently the D and M lines).  These trains were and are part of New York City's subway system.  Like other such trains, they  burrow underground in places like lower to central Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn.  But they surface to ride noisily on elevated tracks, high above the streets, elsewhere. 

For a rumination on that earlier cafeteria, please see: 

   Cafeteria in the Sky

The cafeteria was subsequently moved to the basement of an added two-story cafeteria wing, with the two floors above housing the student cafeteria, which previously had been on the fifth floor. 

The apparition alluded to in Teacher's Cafeteria--Part II  is the author's younger self, walking through Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, before the dawn, with Orion still visible in the sky. 

This was in the late 1980's to the early 2000's.  I would walk briskly for twenty minutes, and then wait for a bus (the B-8 or B-82).  During the bus ride (in a bus that started out almost empty but got impossibly packed as it traveled through subsequent parts of Brooklyn) I would sit in a favorite seat, just in front of the rear door. There, I would write up a lesson plan to go with the handouts I had prepared and run off the previous night.  To do this, I would have stayed late after school, often till midnight (along with a couple of other teachers), scurrying out just before the custodial staff locked the doors and turned on the alarms. They  had eventually gotten used to us late-nighters and so tolerated us.

After the hour-long bus ride through Brooklyn, I would walk another ten minutes to get to the school (the erstwhile Canarsie High School, between Avenues K and J on Rockaway Parkway, in the Canarsie district of southeastern Brooklyn).  This was my morning commute during most of the time that I worked there (from September of 1989 to June of 2002).  I would often return home after 1 am, and be up and out the door again by six.  Being younger and more hopeful, with a will for learning evident in many of my students, I could manage it.  Although my exertions may have been a bit extreme (and protracted) many other teachers were not that far behind.  Many of them preferred, however, to do their preparation (and grading, correcting) work at home.

Canarsie High School opened in the 1960's.  It had wonderful facilities, attracted many excellent students and came to have a talented and experienced faculty.  It was the scene (along with New Utrecht and other schools) of racial conflicts in the later parts of that decade and the 70's.  However, it survived this turbulent period, stabilized and did well for a while.  The school was, however, eventually closed by mayor Bloomberg, along with many other schools.  The phase-out began in the late 2000's.  In 2011, Canarsie High School ceased to exist.

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