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Planning is so old fashioned

written Friday, 9/30/2005

Is TGNO dead?

Now back in Kenner, I can pick up where I left off.
Okay, not really. Katrina has profoundly changed everything in this region, and I can’t pretend to have any idea how it will all turn out. Forget planning. I’m going to continue honing my newfound ability to roll with the punches and appreciate any bits of goodness I find along the way.

Not a word has been communicated from TGNO since Katrina. Enrollment in this program is what allowed its members to teach while working towards a certificate. Early rumors said that the program director was uncertain about the future of TGNO, but I’m not too worried about suddenly becoming ineligible to continue teaching. Certification of teachers had been a very hot issue this year, and about half (?) of the 2005 TGNO members were non-certified teachers who joined the program as a means to keep their jobs. I suspect that certification of teachers will return to the back burner, at least for the remainder of this school year. Looking further down the road though, I will need to eventually get certified if I choose to stay in this profession. The latest rumor is that TGNO will start up again in January, with intensified coursework to make up for lost time. I welcome the break from coursework until then, as life will be plenty hectic without having to take classes after work.

More stressful to me than any possible suspension of TGNO is the departure of friends I had made through the program. Earlier this week Leslie and her husband Rodrick returned briefly to the West Bank. I had just helped them move in a couple months ago, and Wednesday night I was helping them load up a moving truck (Jerome’s Moving Company back in business). Leslie had been excited about her job teaching 9th grade algebra at Belle Chase High in Plaquemines Parish, but Rodrick’s employer relocated him to Florida. Now they’re settling in Tampa with their toddler daughter, where Leslie was quickly hired by a local high school. She would like to return to Greater New Orleans as soon as next school year, but I couldn’t blame her if she doesn’t.

Anjie taught middle school math, and was the goofiest member of TGNO Math. I expected that her students would find her to be the most fun teacher out of our entire group. She and her fiancée moved back to his hometown in Pinole, CA. Hurricane Katrina initiated the move, and Rita finalized it. Anjie intends to enroll in a certification program in the East Bay, and appreciate that her toddler son will now get to know his paternal grandparents.

Channel, who seemed to have the most gentle schoolteacher personality of the math group, bounced around from place to place before settling in Atlanta with no plans to return. She grew up in this area, but has finally had enough.

I’ve heard of numerous TGNO teachers from all subject groups who have been placed “on leave” from their jobs, or chosen on their own to stay away from New Orleans for good. Among those who hope to be called back to their jobs are Allison (middle school Math), who is working as a caterer in Wisconsin. Robert (high school math) anxiously awaits his return from Houston, TX, while seeking a substitute teaching position. Sunday (middle school English) hopes to come back too, but meanwhile stays in Shreveport, LA. Jeremy (middle school math) has just returned to his lifelong hometown in Algiers, but still commutes to a temporary teaching job in Baton Rouge until his former school reopens.

From the math group, Michelle, Nihar, and I are the only teachers employed by Jefferson Parish, and are therefore the only ones returning to work on Monday. Orleans Parish just announced plans to reopen some of its schools a month later, in early November. I hope that will bring some more friends back.

First visit to Orleans, post-Katrina

Today, Orleans Parish is allowing some residents to move back in permanently to some areas, including Michelle’s neighborhood. However, she’ll probably continue to stay with a coworker in Metairie and move back in gradually due to water contamination, possible lack of electricity, and safety concerns. I accompanied her back on Sunday morning, when New Orleans was still officially closed. A National Guardsman at one roadblock turned us away before Michelle talked our way in at another entrance (“I’m a schoolteacher, and I need to grab a few things from my apartment before I go back to work tomorrow.”) The city was almost completely deserted, except for roaming patrols of police and guardsmen, and an occasional civilian vehicle. We drove briefly along Canal Street bordering the French Quarter, a well-documented looting location during the Katrina aftermath. Houses along the poorer streets looked even more dilapidated than before. Spray-painted X’s marked many walls, with numbers in the quadrants denoting what had been found during searches for survivors. Numerous doors had been barged in during the searches, allowing us glimpses at the ruins inside. We passed by the battered Superdome, the site of the infamous shelter fiasco.

The Superdome, as viewed from a moving car on I-10. The white waterproof cover was torn aside by Katrina, and water poured through the damaged roof during the storm.
The Superdome again. Michelle just had to sneak herself into the photo.
An old house at the end of Michelle's block didn't fare so well.
Spray-paint taggings told the findings of search and rescue efforts throughout New Orleans.

We finally arrived at Michelle’s apartment several blocks north of the French Quarter. Floodwater lines had been visible on many houses along Esplanade. Thankfully her apartment, just a few buildings down a cross street, suffered no damage at all. We found it just as she had left it, except for the maggot-infested refrigerator. What a huge weight lifted off Michelle’s shoulders! After about an hour spent packing up and cleaning the fridge, we loaded the car and left New Orleans. The city felt completely dead. All the images we had seen on television suddenly became more real, as did the sense that I’d lost my opportunity to ever know this famed city as it once was.

At the corner of Esplanade and Villere, looking down the street where Michelle lives. One month has passed since Katrina.
Another view of that building on the corner. Neither of us could remember whether it looked nearly that crappy before the hurricane.
Michelle's apartment looks okay from the outside. Her neighbor's truck appears to have survived.
Everything was just fine inside too. The maggot-infested fridge was able to be cleaned.

Anticipating the first day of school, again

This workweek at Bonnabel, we continued to clean and prepare our classrooms for the reopening on Monday October 3. I helped move the remains of classrooms in the to-be-condemned 700 and 800 buildings to their new locations in the other three classroom buildings (This was the first time that Jerome’s Moving Company was actually getting paid to work!). We attempted to call all our homeroom students, encouraging them to return. I reached a dozen of my thirty-something students, or their parents. Ten expressed intent to return. Two said they would not come back. No one really has any idea how many returning students to expect. No one has any idea how many displaced students from other parishes to expect. The parish is still not sure how many of its teachers are returning. Student headcounts will be collected every week in October, and at some point they’ll determine whether some teachers need to be laid off. All I know is that my one week of experience doesn’t provide me much seniority or job security.

This week I was disappointed when Nicole, a physical science teacher, announced that she would be leaving Bonnabel due to the job relocation of her fiancée. During the first week, we had developed a routine of talking during lunch and after school, exchanging notes and discussing which students we liked and didn’t like. She has about five years of experience, but is young enough to remember what it was like to be a new teacher. I’ll miss her youthful perspective amongst a mostly older faculty. Furthermore, I just heard that the discipline dean for my building (probably in his mid-30’s) just announced that he’s moving back to Oregon, and the other 9th grade science teacher (mid-20’s) plans to move to Texas as soon as she and her fiancée can sell their house. Thankfully I know I’ll receive much support from whatever teachers we retain. However, out of the approximately 70 faculty members I’ve seen at school this week, I can only think of two more who appear to be less than 40. Much of the staff has been discussing their retirement options over the last week.

We also found out that starting the second week of the return, school days will be extended by 90 minutes. School days will begin at 6:05am. Will this extra time really be productive, or will the kids burn out early? Hmmm. And they thought it was hard to stay awake in class before! Originally we were told that we’d be seeing one of our classes twice each day on a rotating basis (stoooopid), but today our principal agreed to request that we simply extend each period by about 20 minutes (still painful, but better). With 1.5 hours added to each workday, and 1.5 hours less to prepare for the next day, I’m very relieved that I won’t have to worry about the TGNO classes for now.

I’m very curious to find out what my classes will be like. In addition to longer school days, we now will have to improvise without duplication services since almost all our copy machines got damaged. Furthermore, the algebra teachers have been directed to ditch the remedial material that was intended to occupy the first nine weeks, and go straight to the algebra material. With only a few days to go before the reopening, I haven’t even looked at the algebra book yet. Even when I get familiar with the new text and supporting material, I worry about the readiness of the students. Some are probably prepared to jump straight into algebra, but what about the ones who aren’t? What about the numerous students who will probably trickle in throughout the first several weeks or months? How do we catch them up without boring the ones who show up from the first day? Are we still expected to cover all the state-mandated GLEs (Grade Level Expectations) and Comprehensive Curriculum requirements this year? How do we address, or do we even choose to address the Katrina disaster? Will any of the students be traumatized? Will I even have to address these questions a month from now, or will I have lost my job?

So many questions are unanswered, and everything I think I know is subject to sudden change. The other veteran teachers seem as baffled as I am. Somehow though, I’m still not as nervous or distressed as I thought I would be. I think I’m really learning to adopt a whatever happens happens attitude. Just as I exercised by option to leave my old career, I know I still have options if this path hits a dead end. No matter how uncomfortable the short term may turn out to be, at least I know I’ll be okay in the long run.

Until then, I’m wingin’ it, man!