Maggie arrived that year, the new head of curriculum planning. She loved meetings because there was food and idle chitchat. Maggie told me that she was very excited about my plan to take a group of teachers to the Museum of the Moving Image (MOMI) for workshops on film and how to apply media to a variety of curriculae. I enlisted a dozen teachers and was making final arrangements when Maggie emailed me: You will have to cancel. Next time! M.
I went to her office, which could have been a good idea but was not. “You can’t cancel now, Maggie.”
“Well, I am afraid that I already have.”
“You should have spoken to me. I’ve made all of the arrangements.”
“I’ve booked our workshop. It’s done.”
“Be that as it may, the plans have changed.”
“It’s a reflection of complete incompetence, Maggie.”
She stared back, mouth open, as I left. At least I had stood my ground. That was the thought in my head. Stupid me.
In the midst of the second draft of my teaching autobiography, Fuck Pedagogy, I am having to kill scenes that don’t support the theme of engaging students or knowing subject content. And so I axed this sordid tale from my student teaching days:
I became so relaxed in my teaching practicum that I went out late one school night to see a band, Snowpony at The Starfish Room in Vancouver. Not only did I stay to the end but was brazen enough to wander backstage after the show, sit down with the band and explain how they had to try to the oysters in Portland, the next stop on their tour, drunken advice I am sure they could have done without.
I woke early the next morning and looked out the window to see that my van was not there. Given that I was responsible for driving three other student teachers out to Maple Ridge for our practicums, this was a problem. I called everyone to say that my van had been stolen and that we would have to rent a car. I lay back down and only a moment later remembered that it hadn’t been stolen. I had left it at my friend’s house. In other words, I had done the right thing and forgotten that I had.
I picked everyone up and raced out to Maple Ridge, getting there just in time for my 8:30 class and announced the Free Write prompt (“I remember…”) before going down the hall for a long drink of water from the fountain. As bad as I felt, I had the revelation, as I returned to the class, that I could teach hungover.
My autobiographical writing on teaching practices, Fuck Pedagogy, has been a challenge to because a clear through-line is needed for the reader to follow along. The point of the book is to emphasize teaching with knowledge of content and engagement with students. The following bits didn’t make the cut: I fell from the jungle gym and my Kindergarten teacher split her head open on the same bars when she came running to help me. She was young and beautiful and they took her away in an ambulance. She never came back. An old bitter woman took her place.
I found a stack of old Playboy magazines down the block from school and was crazily delighted by that. I couldn’t look inside, fearful of the nude women I might find, and instead shoved them all into a post box, thinking the postman would like that. Principal Fair told me what I had done was a crime and made me promise to never do it again.
I skipped Grade Three. I didn’t understand why, but they told me to get my things and move to the next room. And there I was, suddenly in Grade Four, taking a spelling quiz along with all of the other Grade Four students. It all seemed fine until I couldn’t spell the word “sheep”. I think I put an ‘a’ in there somewhere. Anyway, that was the end of that. I was solemnly walked back down the hall and returned to Grade Three. It’s an experience that has confused me to this day.
After spending a strange fifteen months applying to schools – 100+ rejections in the end – and a temporary contract online, I’m back in the classroom. It’s a good place to be, not only for me but for my book, Fuck Pedagogy.
As I have mentioned previously, the book is my autobiographical take on education, how many in the industry have no idea what they are doing or if they do, not giving a shit about the students.
I’m not a pedagogical person – “listen to the students and offer what I know” sums up my practice neatly – and I have had my issues with the powers that be. That’s what I’m working on now – the drama of my three dismissals – so that I can focus on what the book is really supposed to mean.
I just completed a more-or-less final draft of Anori, the first book of The Cx Trilogy about leaving earth on a generational space ship to another galaxy. There might have been a brief moment of satisfaction – more of relief – but it was emptiness that reigned.
The final line of the book reads: Dee felt almost calm as she looked ahead for the ship, realizing she had no idea what it would be like, how anything would be at all.
Next up is the first draft of my teaching memoir, Fuck Pedagogy, which should be much easier to write. After all this is not an imagined world but a place that I know all too well. The opening lines of this book now read:
“Why do you want to teach?” Phil was my supervisor in teacher’s college, a big friendly guy with a thick beard and glasses. “I want you to draw what that looks like.”
Posterboards were distributed. I drew a prison.
“Hmm.” Phil hovered over my shoulder for a moment. “Why the barbed wire?”
“I didn’t like school.”
“Interesting.” He stayed another moment, nodding to himself, and then carried on to chat with others.
15 years later, it came as a great surprise when I went back as a teacher. My relationship with my fellow teachers was much improved, and my students too. It was the administrators who I despised this time. They made me think of getting the hell out again.
I was removed from my teaching position three times by my administrators – told to resign, fired and laid off. I have mixed feeling about all of this. Having never really wanted to teach nor ever having worked with a competent administration and yet having enjoyed working with my students – and some colleagues – it is a bittersweet thing.
As I said, teaching was a fallback position. I am writer. And it’s time I wrote about this teaching thing. Fuck Pedagogy. That’s what the book is called. And that’s what it’s about.
Half a year of pseudo-quarantining into the Covid-19 Pandemic, 921,000 people dead worldwide, another surge predicted, and I’m still hanging on in my insular world. Lots of reading, writing and weird sports viewing mark the time of most days along with an occasional trip to my new venue, The Full Shilling, with outdoor seating!
My latest accomplishments include:
Finally left the city, once to see the drive-in premiere of Andrea Mastrovito’s I Am Not Legend, and then, on a week-long trip to Maine for lobster and more lobster.
2. Began workouts on the elliptical and stationary bike, as well as having proper walks again, including Lower Manhattan circumnavigations.
3. Returned to writing in earnest, beginning the first draft of my autobiography, Fuck Pedagogy and returning to the fifth draft of Anori (Book One of Cx Trilogy).
4. Discovered the measured combination of Budweiser, Camel Crush, Nomad and Stoney Patch almost on par with Oxycodone.
5. Put back the 15 pounds I lost after surgery.
6. Won a shit load of acorns on Level 1552 of Fishdom.
Given the scathing feedback from my (former) editor, it took me some time to get back at the first book of The Cx Trilogy, Anori. I’ve made it at last and begun the long toil. The current plan is to work on this concurrently with Fuck Pedagogy and see how their orbits might move the tides. Here are the opening pages at present. (Criticisms welcome!)
Dee held hard to the balcony railing as she looked down to Battery Park, all but empty now, neat rows of sandbags banked up against the grates alongside the Custom House, a single police car, its blue lights mute and slow, moving slowly away. They had stopped broadcasting the evacuation order hours ago. Zone A was closed.
The curtains lulled back as Dee slid the balcony door closed. There was a rocket ship on television. Great shards of curved ice calved off its sides, dissolving into a torrent of smoke and steam, as it slowly rose. The cameras cut to a distance perch across the valley, where the rocket could be seen rising from the barren landscape on a halo of brilliant white, a vibrating candle.
She went into the bathroom and turned off the faucet, Apollo lurching after her, his black-striped tail snaking over her shoulder, as he peered into the tub, now full of water. She grabbed at Apollo’s paw. “Want a bath?”
Apollo slid wildly on the tiles, slamming into the door frame as he bound into the living room. She didn’t know why she would even need the water. The storm had been too long hyped, like the one before, Irene. People had talked and tweeted, hoping for the disaster to get worse so they could make money pretending they cared. She watched the spectacle, the cameras now inside the capsule, giving a fish-eye view of the flight instruments, the oblong window to the pilot’s right and the blue-grey glow of her helmet at the bottom of the screen, the ubiquitous Infinity logo on everything. The vanishing rocket rose atop its teetering plume, transforming into a dot, the smoke, once thick, drifted into emptiness.
She changed the channel to the local news. This morning’s high tide was at 8:30 am. That tide surged over the walls into the city this morning, eleven hours ago. That tide has already been here. This tide is a full-moon high tide, just like Irene, only worse; it’s much worse. The weather guy was earnest, his sleeves rolled up, his square jaw pushed out for this soap opera apocalypse announcement. This is the one we have to watch. This one could be anywhere from 12 feet up to 14, 15, 16 feet. 16 feet! Think about that. In just 15 minutes. This is it. The surge is almost here.
“Hurry up.” She grabbed the cat’s leash and opened the door. “Before it’s too late.”
Apollo bolted ahead of her and turned tight circles until the elevator opened, and then pinned himself against Dee’s legs, his head against the silver wall until the doors opened and he could escape to the lobby.
“Apollo!” Hector, large against the glass doors at the front, bent down to Apollo. “My man.”
“Keeping the storm at bay?”
“You shouldn’t have taken the elevator.” He scratched Apollo vigorously down his side. ““They’re going to shut off the power, Miss Sinclair.”
“It’s 28 floors, Hector.”
“The eye of the storm just hit Atlantic City. That just happened.”
She leashed Apollo. “They keep talking about the tide.”
“You see the market. You see that?” He pointed out to the green awning that had flipped around on its moorings, its rusted metal ribs exposed, swelling in and out with the wind, a dying animal against the corner of the building. “You sure you should be going out?”
She thought about telling him how she wanted to see the wall of water coming down the narrows, the boats curled up into its majestic belly, the Verrazano Bridge hidden from view, the Statue of Liberty dwarfed in the shadow of the blue-black water as it rose higher and higher, even if she knew it wouldn’t really be like that. “We’ll be back in a few minutes.”
He stretched his arm against the door, his jacket binding at his giant shoulders and pushed open the door. “Be careful, Miss Sinclair. Lady was killed by a tree today in Queens.”
Here’s a rough version of the opening to my autobiography as a teacher:
I spend a lot of time trying to figure out who I am. I smoke out of boredom. I don’t want to do anything. I get excited about the dumbest of things. I seek revenge. My first thought after learning someone died, anyone, is that it was good that it wasn’t me. I digitize old pictures. I search through old letters. I reflect. I remember. I think about who I was as a kid. I sure as hell didn’t know who I was then, but I was certain that I would know when I was 19 or 20. And, it’s true, I thought I knew what I was about then, or I certainly acted like I did. The thing is I was just a dumb ass kid who wanted to fuck and be recognized as a great writer.
I’m no more than that now. I separate myself from everyone because I don’t like people. But what do I do when I’m on my own? I think of who I can talk to on the phone. I like being alone but I hate being alone. I’m afraid of nothing, and I’m afraid of everything. I wish this was just clever stuff. But it isn’t. It isn’t clever at all. It’s a spew. I mean, I hate acronyms. They are lazy and dumb – 911, Fidi – I hate them, and then I finally give up and use them and don’t question it anymore. It’s true that I have principles. Or I think that I do. I have a moral code. I just don’t know what that is. I’m not what I want to be. I’m still that stupid kid, thinking I will grow up soon. Even now, I think I know everything. I actually know that I know nothing. But knowing that is knowing everything. I think that I could hold up under torture and know that I wouldn’t last a second.
I really am stupid like that. I judge everyone. I objectify women, young and old. It doesn’t matter. I think that I am better than everyone, and I know I am not. I know that admitting all of this is good but it doesn’t feel like it. It feels like I’ve wasted my life trying to be something I never was. I never could be myself. That’s the thing. I want to find that guy, figure out who the hell he is. One thing I know for sure: I’m no teacher.