Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Return of the Clinkmistress

Actually, I've been in the new clink for a little over three weeks now. Sorry for the delay, my three fans. I guess I've been "settling in." It has taken some time for me to absorb my surroundings, and to realize that I'm in a completely different place than the one in which I worked before. I have a hard time calling my new teaching site a clink. Mostly because it isn't one. This isn't jail. No bars, no shackles, no state-issued uniforms. It feels more like off-campus housing for some unknown Hispanic educational institution. I teach in a group home, kind of like a halfway house for kids who have just come from secure treatment and are spending a few months in this facility before being released to their parent(s), or other family members, or foster care, or independent living. My classroom - which functions (apparently) as a third-shift lounge for support staff - has its own bathroom, which, like many college apartments, is in screaming need of a woman's touch. Or just a shitload of Lysol.

There are three classrooms on the first floor: two regular education classrooms, and one special education classroom. My classroom is on the third floor, adjacent to two student bedrooms. I call it the Reading Penthouse, because 1) it's at the tippy top of the building, and 2) although it may not look like it now, I vow to make it the slickest, most tricked-out reading nest EVER. Kids are going to make HUGE strides in reading with K-Bizzle! Um, I mean, with Miss. Yep, that's right: "Miss." Residents call teachers and staff by Mr. or Miss throughout the program. The first time a student called me Miss, I confess that the thought "do I honestly look like a fucking waitress?' drifted through my mind. I realize that it's just part of the way this program works, that no, they don't expect me to serve them up a plate o' buffalo wings, and that "Miss" mirrors in English the Spanish term "Senorita," which in Hispanic culture is perfectly respectful. Plus, it's easier to say "Miss" than it is to try to remember the name of the 198th teacher you've had in your life. Maybe I should simply take it as a compliment that they think I look young enough to be a Senorita.

Anyway, I could go on about the differences between the job I left in hard core juvie and the one I've taken on in Halfway House Hood. It will take time to settle in. I'm writing this post from my hotel room at the New England Reading Association conference, where I'm soaking up lots of ideas and practices for engaging reluctant readers. The best I can do is to arm myself with lots of teaching tools, march right up to that third floor on Monday, and welcome my new boys with open arms and high expectations. And Clorox wipes.