Updated Friday, September 18th 2009, 9:45 AM
As an ESL teacher, I face challenges very different from those of my colleagues. For example, while some teachers are at their wits' end trying to get kids to quiet down, I might be begging newcomers to speak audibly - or making them repeat things 20 times until they can be heard.
But that's not always the case. For example, a few years back, I had half a dozen kids from the Dominican Republic who loved to speak. But they wanted to speak Spanish, and in my English classes, we speak only English.
It was hard to blame them. On the other side of our sheetrock wall was a Spanish teacher partial to choral repetition. Every time I reminded my kids of our English-only rule, we'd hear 34 voices chant in unison, "Como esta usted, Senor Mendez?" They thought it was the funniest thing in the world.
The half-rooms were designed to alleviate overcrowding. After we created them, the Education Department sent us hundreds of extra kids.
I've since been exiled to the trailers. Technically they're "transportables," but ours haven't gone anywhere since they arrived years ago. Our first trailers gave us four additional classrooms, designed to alleviate overcrowding.
After we got the trailers, the department sent us hundreds of extra kids. Our second bunch gave us four more classrooms, and the department sent us hundreds more extra kids. Our last principal declined further trailers. In fact, he had an athletic field built around them, precluding further construction in the trailer park. The department sent us hundreds of extra kids anyway.
We improvised new rooms. Some resembled bowling alleys. A colleague, the day before his retirement, brought a bowling ball and rolled it from one end of the room to the other. The department sent us hundreds of extra kids.
Space became truly scarce. I was assigned to a room the size of a small studio apartment. A dance class practiced outside, forcing us to close the door. Having no windows, the 17 students and I made the daily choice between air and quiet.
This year, to alleviate the overcrowding, we extended our class day to 13 periods. The department still sent us hundreds of extra kids. Our building, initially designed for 1,800 students, broke 4,700 this year.
Returning teachers struggle to handle up to 45 students at a time, leading to momentous battles over precious chairs. Students and teachers tear furiously down the hallways, shoving each other out of the way to make classes on time by any means necessary. A colleague of mine found herself teaching a gym class of 156 kids. By the time the period was over, she hadn't finished taking attendance. They've since added another teacher, and six kids, so she's now down to 81.
In the trailers, the floors are polished for the first time. But with swine flu looming large, the sinks barely work and there's not a bottle of Purell to be found anywhere.
To us, the experts at Tweed are like doctors who diagnose a disease, then inject the patient with more toxins just to make certain they're right. No one can criticize their diagnostic skills. But if anyone's due a malpractice suit, it's the Department of Education.