Sunday, May 11, 2008

BUS STORY # 83 (The Teacher)

School’s been back in session for a while now, and I’m missing one of the regular inbound riders in the morning. She’s a high school teacher, and the last time I saw her was just before spring break. She’d been looking for a new place to live, and I suspect she found someplace off the route. I miss her stories.

Public school teachers have a lot in common with bus drivers: a lot of the folks in their charge don’t really want to be there, and they don’t all look upon being where they are as something to be grateful for. Among the more troubled of their charges, there can be some difficult and unpleasant acting out, and physical assaults are not unheard of. Neither salary seems compensation enough for working in these environments.

I’m impressed because I haven’t seen anything that suggests she is jaded or burned out by her job. Maybe its because she went into teaching later in life after having run her own business. Maybe it’s because she raised a son on her own. Maybe it’s just her personality. Whatever the reason, she strikes me as having an engaged, down-to-earth take on her job and her students.

She’s taught in three distinct socio-economic environments here in town, and I’m fascinated by her observations. She doesn’t see any fundamental differences among all her students – they’re all “hormone-addled.” She says this with some compassion. She says it takes some kids longer to “get it” than others, but that’s mostly because of home and cultural environment, not IQ. What strikes me most is her perception that the immigrant kids are the most respectful and studious.

Like the rest of us, her relationship with her boss determines a commanding degree of her job satisfaction. Her feelings about which schools she liked teaching at the best depended largely on how much monitored autonomy she had. She doesn’t like being micromanaged.

She worries about her girls. She’s had several of them become pregnant over the last two semesters, and she shakes her head because, she tells me, they have no idea what they have done to their lives. She says a lot of them don’t even know who the father is, or so they say. As far as she’s concerned, this is the big problem in high school today.

Several months ago, the media was alive with stories about teachers and sexual abuse of students. I asked her what she thought about it, and she told me she’s never seen anything even remotely suggesting inappropriate sexual relationships between teachers and students. She said there are some very strict rules in place about teacher conduct, and one of the hardest places to hold the line is with the special ed students. Some of them are an affectionate lot, given to hugging. She says they are confused and hurt when pushed back to arm’s length and told this is not acceptable behavior here in school. She says it’s hard, but she doesn’t think hugging is worth the risk.

She has a car. So why does she ride the bus? Because of the price of gas, because the bus picks her up at her front door and drops her at her campus, because she doesn’t have to worry about her car being vandalized or stolen from the school parking lot, because she used to ride the bus all the time back east. She’s quite vocal about the differences between bus service back east and here in Albuquerque: “They don’t change drivers and schedules every three months, the buses don’t break down every other week, and they show up on time.” I’m guessing she’s a pretty strict grader.


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