Combat Diaries #3: SENT INTO BATTLE WITHOUT A GUN

This is the third entry in Dana R. Casey’s Combat Diaries series.

This morning I climbed four flights of stairs to start my school day. The climb is a struggle, not just because I am not in the shape that I used to be, but because I am lugging three packs of printer paper and half a gallon of water, all purchased by me. I must climb these four flights because, as usual, the elevator is out of order. I must lug these heavy bags because I never receive most of the basic supplies that I need for the school year.

At the beginning of the school year, most teachers across this city receive only one case of paper, a box of pens, a box of chalk, an eraser, a few markers, a box of paper clips, a box of staples, and a roll or two of tape. We get another case of paper at the beginning of second semester. Some of the other supplies may or may not be replenished upon request.

I brought water with me today, because there is no water available to me unless I go down the four flights of steps to the lobby and get it from the one water cooler in the building. There are no water fountains. There is supposedly lead in the building’s pipes. Every water fountain was removed from every school in the school system regardless of the presence of lead or not for fear of lawsuits. There is not even a water cooler in the bare unwelcoming teacher’s lounge for teachers to access. There can be no water coolers in the hallways because the students will take the five gallon water bottle and dump it on the floor.

I only have enough English text books to use in the classroom; there are none to send home. No grammar books at all. I have received novels for the new modules from the school system this year; however, I did not get enough of the second title to send the books home with students. I let students sign them out overnight if they requested. More than half of those were never returned.

I received none of the third title and scrounged the building to find enough for at least a class set. Seven of these books have disappeared (though I can’t fathom why since most students don’t read them), so I currently do not have enough for every student in a class period and students have to share this small paperback.

I received enough of the final novel, but the book is more demanding than most of my students can handle especially with essentially five weeks of classes left, so I will be running off chapters of another more appropriate book, but only a class set since I will be buying all of the paper.

Keep in mind that I only get two cases of paper per year. I have 130 students in five periods. That means that I have enough paper to run off 1.9 sheets of paper per week per student. Without adequate textbooks, I need to run off many more pages per student to provide them with work.

I have an LCD projector and a document reader, which have been a blessing; however, the bulb on the projector burned out a month ago and it has yet to be replaced. A colleague who does not use his projector generously lent me his. The LCD projector can project an image from multiple sources like a computer or DVD player. The document reader has a camera lens under which one can place a book or worksheet and project the image. I use it to review directions or corrections, to have students present work, or to point out specific passages in a text. I use it daily. It is completely useless without a bulb.

My printer was damaged when the room above flooded from a leaky radiator. I had been waiting a month for ink anyway. I asked for another printer; I sent a second request two weeks later; I sent a third request two weeks after that. Finally, I brought in my own printer from home and spent $54.00 to buy replacement ink cartridges.

There are two laptop carts in this building; however, they are dedicated to the math department who must use a specific computer program for their classes, a program which costs a fortune and which the math teachers say is terrible. Scores at the top math school in the system, a school which garners praise and high SAT math scores, dropped when this computer program was added to their curriculum.

There is a “computer lab”. It is padlocked and few of the computers work anyway. There is no printer in there. There is no wireless in the building.

There are two other rooms with 25 computers. These are for the technology classes so they are not available to other classes. There are supposed to be enough computers for every student to have their own; however, there are 32 students in the class and 8-10 computers that are not functioning, so the ratio of computer to student is 2:1 instead of 1:1.

We have a “library”. There are no books in it. I literally mean ZERO books (see photo). There are five computers, but usually no one to supervise them and the library is generally locked.

I could go on, but I think that you get the picture. This is not just my experience; this is the experience of every teacher in my building, in my system, and in too many systems across this nation. The nation keeps calling for holding teachers accountable, but teachers are not provided with basic tools like paper, while they are also battling the culture of Blame and Complain/Accuse and Excuse (and if that doesn’t work, SUE!).

My first entry of “Combat Diaries”, which is about the chaos that is the norm in many schools, elicited this reply from one reader, “No school operates this way.” When I told my colleagues about this reply, each and every one laughed. My purpose in creating these diaries is to show America the truth about what is going on in the classroom. Those who are not in the classroom don’t have a clue. Liberals have it wrong; conservatives have it wrong; the average American citizen has it wrong. They don’t know the truth of what too many teachers face daily. If it seems too unbelievable, too outrageous to be the truth, my point is made.

There are millions and billions being poured into education. Pearson[i] is making a fortune[ii] creating curriculum, texts, and tests like PARCC[iii] which will be forced on every student in America. Pearson is influencing the style and structure of the SATs so even home schooled students will not be protected. Bill Gates, who also was involved in forcing Common Core onto the states, will earn millions more than what he donated through the sale of the computers that will be mandatory to deliver the tests created by Pearson. Consultants who have never been in a classroom are paid hundreds and thousands of dollars to come up with brilliant gems such as (and this is a true example) “the schools should be kept clean”. Contractors are paid tens of thousands of dollars to paint classrooms that are never painted.

There is plenty of money being thrown at education, but it rarely arrives in the classroom, it is rarely there for teachers to use, and it rarely benefits the students.

I am sure that there are schools in this country where there are beautiful computer labs, libraries full of books, storerooms full of supplies, gymnasiums full of equipment, theaters full of costumes, and students who are more often than not ready to learn, but for most urban students and teachers this is a seemingly elusive dream.

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Post Note: A colleague of mine, fairly new to the system, had an experience this week quite familiar to me. One student was trying to attack another student, but ended up kicking the teacher in the shin quite hard. The teacher is pressing charges; the parents have accused her of racism. I have been accused of the same at least once a year for my entire teaching career. Clearly, the accusations must be correct which is why I have dedicated my twenty years of service to a majority African-American population of students (in case you missed it that was sarcasm). However, for this young lady, it was the first time to experience such unearned vitriol. The parents were more concerned about keeping their child from being held accountable than they were about the truth. This is an example of what I call Blame and Complain/Accuse and Excuse.

She told me that the experience made her sick to her stomach. I completely understand. When you have considered yourself a kind, sympathetic, and compassionate person your whole life, being confronted by unjust accusations such as these can cut one to the quick, especially considering that she was the victim of his casual violence. The irony here is that she is a member of a protected minority herself; she is a gay woman. But as a gay woman working in an urban system where students are not expected to maintain basic civility she has been bombarded with “faggot”, “lesbian”, “dyke”, “dyke bitch” , and “white bitch”  repeatedly. Too many students and too many of the students’ parents who are so concerned that others respect their humanity have little respect for hers. She has gone home beaten down every day when she started this year full of enthusiasm for teaching. I weep for her; she genuinely bleeds. I teach my students (when I can teach) that we don’t have to agree with other people in order to respect their humanity. Her humanity, and the humanity of many teachers, is daily degraded; the whole of the nation tells us we are worthless all of the time.



[i] Pearson is an education publishing and assessment service to schools and corporations, as well as directly to students. Pearson owns leading educational media brands including Addison–Wesley, BBC Active, Bug Club, eCollege, Fronter, Longman, MyEnglishLab, Penguin Readers, Prentice HallPoptropica and Financial Times Press. (Wikipedia)

[iii] Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)

Dana R. Casey is a veteran high school English teacher of more than two decades in an East-coast urban system.  She is a life-long student of theology, philosophy, and politics, dedicated to the true Liberalism of the Enlightenment, as defined by our Founders and enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights.

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