Saturday, January 11, 2020

Dear Patron Saint of Institutional Racism,

I don't know if you get a whole lot of correspondence on this topic, but I'm a New York City teacher and I work in a trailer. It's always been a pretty crappy place to work. This year, in a moment of extraordinarily bad judgment, I did a favor for an assistant principal and swapped one of my classes into one. I won't make that mistake again. But even if my classes weren't there, someone else's would be.

Now here's the deal--New York City knows that these trailers will not be there more than another year or two, so they've given up on them utterly and won't make repairs on them. For example, back in September, the AC didn't work. I have photos of the temperature being 99 degrees. Every single day the custodians told me someone from the city was coming to fix them, but no one ever did. Eventually the temperature went down outside, and the problem was solved. Except it wasn't.

I'll get back to that. But imagine you're teaching a class of kids, and the one by the door is wearing a hijab and a robe that goes from neck to floor. I don't know what it's made of, and I'm not going to ask. That's not to mention all the other kids, or me, and we were only marginally less uncomfortable. Many days I brought this class to the auditorium, where the sound is not optimized for running a class and where keeping student attention is like a game of chance.

In another trailer, a former student of mine teaches math. She's from China, and so are all her students. She's pretty driven to teach, and I'd bet dimes to dollars she bailed from the trailer fewer days than I did, if at all. Her students, though, were pretty vocal in their complaints about this miserable trailer. One day they asked her, "Is it because we're Chinese?"

It's not because they're Chinese in particular, though, It's because they're New York City public school students and no one at Tweed or anywhere else gives a good goddamn about their learning conditions. 

Let's get back to why a change of seasons won't change the conditions in the trailers. For one thing, the temperature will go up again later this year. Those pesky spring conditions tend to show up around April or May. For another, even though the temperature is down in the outside world, it's a balmy 85-88 degrees in my trailer. It's odd, because the temperature is set to 68. Why does it get so hot? I have no idea. So I complain every few days to various people, everyone I can think of, and nothing happens, ever.

Now it's ironic when it's absolutely freezing outside and I'm sitting in a trailer with the door propped open with a fire extinguisher and both of the functioning windows open. (Did I mention that several of the windows don't open? This really sucks on those 99 degree days.) I have a girl from the Dominican Republic sitting with her winter coat on, as far from the door as possible, and she tells me she's freezing to death. Meanwhile, my student with the hijab, sitting right by the door, begs me not to close it. The kids by the windows physically block my way when I go to close them.

As if that's not enough, there's construction going on in the field. They're building a new annex, so they can get rid of the trailers in a few years. And they hammer, and they drill, and they make loud construction noises they promised would not happen during school hours. It gets worse every day. Who cares? No one, They're only bothering a bunch of kids from other countries. It's not like their parents are gonna call and complain. Is it discrimination?

You better believe it is.
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