This is Episode 27 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.
The Big Bucks
I served as the contract teacher the last year that Bell Springs Collective existed, meeting weekly with the three groups of students, first at the little school until it was red-tagged, late in the year, and then at the different residences in which the three sections of the school took place.
I was attending Dominican full time that year, taking classes that met on Tuesday and Friday nights and all day Saturday. By concentrating efforts for what amounted to twelve hours per weekend, I was able to complete the process in one calendar year. The student-teaching part of the school year took place beginning the last couple of days of January, and extended fifteen weeks into the second half of the school year, ending in the middle of May.
Like most applicants interested in obtaining a clear California Credential, I had to perform my student teaching at two different levels of education, in my case, the kindergarten and the middle school. I walked into the kindergarten, the day after the Niners had just won Super Bowl, on January 29, 1991. I was exuberant, though nervous as I made my way around the classroom, interacting with the little munchkins in a reasonably comfortable mode.
Little kids are easy to engage. I read stories to them, got them to read stories to me; I helped them get organized with this little game, or that set of crayons with paper to boot. I listened to their comments and guaranteed that I was well on the way to garnering my first kid-related cold, by keeping the box of Kleenix handy for wiping their noses. I learned how to monitor their progress out on the playground, recognizing how critically important it was to keep an eye on every one of the little dudes, so as not to misplace them.
I was standing on the playground one early March morning, as the wind swirled around me, bundled up in my olive-drab green overcoat retained from my military experience, and donned as a protection against that wind. Our principal Mr. Matlock came ambling toward me, stepping carefully along so as to not appear fazed by the wind. As he approached me, those expressive eyebrows, dancing merrily, his smile radiated across the blacktop, warming the cockles of my soul, if not necessarily the rest of me. As he stepped up beside me, he put his hand gently on my shoulder, those eyebrows tap-dancing wildly while he stated eloquently, “This is what we pay you the big bucks for around here.”
I swear the man was giggling like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning, as he went on his way, leaving me to wonder at the irony in his message. I don’t know whether he was laughing because even if I were a full-time teacher, I was still not getting enough to make it worth while, or the fact that, as a student teacher, I wasn’t paid at all. I just know that he was enjoying his little joke immensely. (My first year teaching had a base annual salary of $18,312.00)
I was more than happy to smile radiantly back at him, as if to say, “Who needs to get paid, when you are having so much fun?” As I used to say to my students every year I ever taught, “If you think I am in this racket for the money, I got news for you. There a bridge for sale in San Francisco, and it’s made of gold. I’ll sell it to you for a song. I know you’re interested, because anyone who believes teaching is a money-making proposition, is also likely to believe that the Golden Gate Bridge is for sale.”
The reality was, I was beginning to make the connection that if the Bell Springs Collective was going to dissolve, then I would be interested in applying to the District for an available position in the fall. It was to my advantage to cultivate a working relationship with a person who was undoubtedly going to be on the hiring committee for any position that was being filled at either the elementary or middle school level. I had been hearing reverberations of an unhappy situation at the middle school level, involving one of the five homeroom teachers who anchored the middle school staff.
It seems as though the class which she had as her core class, which meant she had them for at least two classes daily and probably three, had been seriously rocking her world. They were doing the kind of stunts that clearly announced to the world that the element of basic respect was missing from her homeroom class. This resulted in spillover to the other areas of the school, which tends to happen when they are allowed to run amuck for a couple periods a day. The teacher ended up quitting in early spring, and a long-term substitute teacher was hired to complete the year. This is one of the classes I would be student-teaching reading and language for two periods a day. Knowing in advance what was in store for me was good and bad.
It was good because I hate surprises; it was bad because, knowing what was in store for me, I stressed out over it. Fortunately, I spent seven weeks with Susan Bradley before I had to face the middle school. Though the little kiddies went home at 2:30, I was there every day until five-thirty or six, sweeping, talking, cutting, sorting, learning, listening, and gaining a foundation for what it was like to be a full-time teacher.
What I learned from Susan kept me afloat through more turbulent waters to come, and there were several times when I went back for an infusion of her enthusiasm. There was no shortage of support from Susan; there was just a shortage of time. Whereas I probably would have been content to stay in the kindergarten forever, that all changed when I did finally go to the middle school, where I found to my delight, that the little monsters intrigued me. Thus began a sixteen year sojourn in the grade levels that best describe me. How appropriate.
Before that could happen, however, I had to survive my student teaching, and that meant facing that class that had driven their regular teacher right off the premises. Oh boy for me.