I’m excited about substitute teaching at CPEHS. It’s rep as a vital, democratic learning community, founded by the great progressive educator, Deborah Meier, fills me with happy anticipation.
Central Park East High School
Monday, November 7, 2011
It’s a sunny, crisp morning. After a quick hop on the uptown Lexington Avenue line to 103rd Street, I walk north, underneath the ancient brick arch that supports the continually clattering Metro North trains. They tunnel underground to Grand Central at 96th Street, the invisible line separating el barrio from the tony Upper East Side. For the well-heeled, train noise is abated.
I could walk straight through the projects to Madison Avenue, but I feel safer on Park, heading to 104th Street. I also feel a little shame knowing that most of my students were born and, for the time being, are stuck here while I, their intrepid educator, am too uncomfortable to walk in their pathways on this gentle morning. Education, I tell myself. That’s their escape route. Maybe I can help.
CPEHS appears in front of me. Her entrance is rather unimaginative, but I’m sure this vital learning lab must vibrate with creativity and collaboration. Founded in 1984, its seeds germinated into a number of progressive small schools. My home school is one of its sprouts.
After signing in, I’m sent to the office. A long desk divides the room. The place needed a paint job a long time ago. A middle-aged woman behind the desk is listening to a man in handyman jeans go on about his weekend.
“I’m tellin’ you he din’t seen nothin’. Craggy comes in with a rear naked choke. And my wife’s yellin’ at me to shop wid her at 116th. Lemme tell you, that ain’t gonna happen. He won by submission. I though it was a guillotine choke but no. Rear naked. Down and out!”
“Ya shoulda helped yer wife,” the woman behind the desk says in a dour tone. She shakes her head and turns to me. “Can I help you?”
“You women stick together,” the kickboxing fan chides her. She shakes her head at him. I smile and give her my best Monday morning energy.
“Hi. I’m Elizabeth Rose, your ATR for the week. I’m excited to be here.” Her head bobs a little in recognition of the initials.
“OK, you can go sit in the teachers’ lounge. Here’s the baf’room key.” Although she exhibited some energy in her brief banter with Rear Naked Guillotine Choke Man, she has saved her best dissociative monotone for me. “Somebody will let you know when we need you.”
It’s a right jab to my gusto. I retreat across the hall to the teachers’ lounge, sit in a hard chair and observe Reality seize a chunk of my enthusiasm, chew it up and toss it into the elderly wastebasket by the door. I’m alone with a pile of last week’s NY Post tabloids, two empty coffee cups, crumbs and a menagerie of dust bunnies. The window, obfuscated by bars, looks out on the grounds of an adjacent project, now bleak under cloud cover. I readjust my expectations. This school might be pulsating with collaborative, reflective, playful energy. But for me…I’m caught cold.
Still, it’s not a kick in the head. Not by a mile. No cage rage for me. Can’t maul my fabulous energy. Reframe. This is the perfect time to work on developing my new TV pilot about global music, or, “G-Music.” I’ll start with composing a theme song or two.