Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Madness in the Schools

The Madness in the Schools
I could write of global madness till the dread one came for me,
And those who read my ramblings still might never understand.
So let me write of local things – of what I saw and heard
And what I did or couldn’t do – and not of matters grand.
I ‘d read when I was young:  a madman thinks that all around
Are mad – and only he alone is sane among the crazed.
And if that truly is the case, I’m surely going mad,
For when I see what’s thought as sane, I really am amazed.

I see the school I work in, and I see the teachers smile
Or grimace at the jobs they do.  I hear the students chatter
Or murmur or be quiet and I wonder at it all –
For few or none are asking, “What we’re doing – does it matter?”

I see the bathrooms locked, except for portions of the day.
I find three thousand students sharing bathrooms four at most,
And two of them are tiny, while the other two, I note,
Are mostly locked.  And yet, about this school, we often boast.

The senior teachers told me, when I started on a subject,
“There isn’t time to teach this.  We must hurry, hurry, speed!”
I taught it for a good two years, and hurried, like they said.
But then – a period chopped, a week – and all was hell, indeed!
“A period less a week translates to two months less a year!
So how are we to cover what we earlier barely could?”
They shrugged and said, “That’s how it is.” It seemed they didn’t hear.
But I’ve been lost and struggling since.  Complaining did no good.

I’d found the students from abroad had less of attitudes
That irked. They tried to do their work – and treated me as human.
And so I’d asked for them again – but then I found a flood
Of those with English zero – and a task that was inhuman.

“A science is a language that is specialized and yet
Relies, for understanding, on a language that is shared.
So how am I to teach it, and how are they to learn?”
I asked the ones around me – and wondered if they cared.   
I hurried still but also slowed.  I annotated texts,
I simplified the language and I used an online tool
To make translations – poor, but still enough to wake the dazed.
I worked and worked – but more and more, I felt I was a fool.
“What matters is what ‘they’ will see, on entering your room –
The ones who matter in our world, the ones who oversee us.
They’ll judge you on their ‘rubrics’.  And there still remains the test.
So do, what all are doing.  Quit with all your useless fuss.”
This is what the teachers say – and even might believe in.
I’ve painted with a brush that’s wide, but painted the consensus.
And when we’re all reduced to this – or are, by nature, gifted
To teach and learn at lightning speed, then who can slow or trip us?
And much, much more I could describe – and only what I’ve seen
And heard and done while at the school, and only what’s of late…
The mind attempts to do the task it’s given.  It succeeds
Or not.  And some accept what comes – as destiny or fate…
But surely there are things that we as humans understand –
What can’t be done or can?  And surely, in a school with kids,
We try to do what’s best for them?  Expediency may rule
In other things.  Should teachers set their students on the skids?
I look around and see the younger teachers and the old
Alike survive – in ways I can’t.  Perhaps my brain’s been fried.
Or I perhaps am going mad, while others still are sane.
For what I’d read, when I was young, was surely true and tried…

We’re told to teach in ways that seem impossible – and yet,
Behold – the "master-teachers" teach, and gods are satisfied!
Go visit in their classrooms and you’ll see, upon their walls,
The marvels that their kids have done.  They should be deified…
2014 November 8th, Sat.
Brooklyn, New York


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your insights and your poetry. I am sorry you suffer so just trying to do your job.

Arjun Janah said...

Thank you, Anonymous -- for reading "The Madness in the Schools" and for the kind comment.

Very early in our jobs in the schools, many of us get to learn that we won't get much appreciation for our work from our "supervisors" or even our colleagues. If we are lucky, we might get a bit of that from some of our students and from the work itself. But even that is elusive and contingent on the circumstances, however hard we may try.

But what takes a bit longer to learn is that we not only might not be left alone (with more and more of that over the last twelve years or so) to do our work, but we might reasonably expect punishment from "higher ups" for doing it.

I have not described such things in these verses, but I have experienced them myself and also seen others similarly punished for trying to do the right thing quietly, minding their business, but not necessarily toeing the line.

Be that as it may, we survive and hope for the best. Thanks again!