Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Aug 08 2013

In the Delta

Today my car battery died after I finished a lazy afternoon run in 93 degree heat. I jumped it and drove the 25 minutes home.┬áDied again. Recruited my TFA best brother friend JL to leave the football office and jump me. Got halfway into the street from my gravel driveway. Died again. I flipped into neutral while JL pushed, determined that if in the literally seven times I’ve revived this car in the past five days it has always worked, it will surely work again. All I want is to drive the half mile to O’Reilly’s, where they can check the alternator.

I’m halfway laughing, rolling my eyes as JL and I sit on my stoop with lukewarm glasses of water, watching my car steal energy from his. They’re adorably facing each other, my short cables (thanks, dad!) making the connection look mechanically intimate. He’s preaching to me the beauty of our lives: “It’s a beautiful day, we’re sitting together, enjoying this place… No? You don’t feel me?”

Despite the look I give him, he’s right. This transition has been the easiest of the three back into the delta from summers in Urban America. While I’m anxious about curriculum and setting up my room and meeting everyone I’ll be working with and having significant big goals for the year, I’m consistently more interested in making sure I rest, and then making sure I don’t feel guilty about making myself rest.

When I went to Walmart to pile fresh cut composition notebooks into a squeaky cart last week, my new-principal-old-assistant-principal (who was a major player in me staying in my school a third and now fourth year) called me. He said, “Ms. L, I need you to be a Pathwise mentor. Can you do that?”

One hand holding my thrice-shattered iPhone, one hand veering the cart against the highlighters and Expo markers, I started mentally listing. While he explains that, “You’ll be teaching with her, she’s young, lots of energy like you, I think you two will get along really well…” I’m calculating: one full time job teaching, one part time job with ATC starting now, one part time job with ATC hopefully starting in the next month, full time grad school with internship…

“I’m just thinking, I have a pretty full plate this year-”

“Training is at the co-op on Monday, you need to register for it on-line, can you do that before tomorrow?”

“She’s my team teacher? So I’ll probably spend that much time planning with her anyway? I’m just worried I won’t be able to fulfill what I need to.”

“Exactly, we think you should do it.”

“Can I just get online and look at the requirements before I commit to this?”

“Yeah, I think you’ll find all that out at training, just make sure you register. It’s Monday and Tuesday. Thanks, Ms.L.”

While I make him out to sound like he wasn’t listening, I know that in reality he just knew I would do it from the beginning, and I will. I went to training this week, two seven-hour days learning an evaluation rubric that is defunct. I say in all honesty: there is no validity in the time spent learning it. Here is why: the Arkansas state teacher evaluation system has changed. We are now being evaluated with Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, something I am thankfully familiar with because we used it all summer with ATC. Our administration evaluated us with the framework last year and created quite the stir when teachers earned some basic ratings. Pathwise is the old system for evaluation. In other words: the Pathwise rubric will not be used in evaluation this year. Perhaps, though, we are spending these two days learning this rubric because first year teachers will be evaluated with it for their Praxis 3? They need it for something, anything that will use the same rubric? Some shred of meaning in this? I ask this question the morning of the second day.

Nope, the facilitator says throwing her hands up as she blames her retirement for not knowing the answer to this, Praxis 3 actually doesn’t exist anymore.

Oh. So…?

“Well it’s like this. It’s like sometimes you get a new outfit and you forget to iron it so you put on the old one.”

And here I erupt in professional development giggles. Where last year, or the year before, or the year before, I would condescendingly and shockingly feel that self-righteous Education As We Know It Is Crumbling Who Can Stand For This sinking feeling in my gut. I now in a just barely-veteran-like-way shake my head and laugh. Okay, public education system, you got me! I will learn and evaluate with this irrelevant rubric and be grateful for the amount of Danielson training I got over the summer. At least I can be transparent with my mentee and show both sides…

Not just that, but my facilitator’s ironing analogy was achingly brilliant. We will all be re-trained in the Danielson rubric next year, the Department of Ed just didn’t quite have the time or priorities to change the state-mandated mentor system from Pathwise to Danielson. Instead of putting on the new outfit with a bunch of wrinkles, we’re temporarily sticking with what’s comfortable.

At the training, too, I met the mother of my new assistant principal. She was also training to be a mentor in a different district. Such is Arkansas… always someone you know. Based on her, I have a feeling I am going to absolutely love my administration this year… despite both of them being new to their roles in the school. Mrs. AP’s Mother was telling me about how collaborative they have been, how they want to make our school a family, and how they have similar working styles. With each description my anxiety is melting and my memory of telling ATC I’d be happy to “move into a full-time role based out of Little Rock next school year” is questioned more deeply. Will I stay in Dumas? Will my deep desire to more fully enjoy my 20′s in urban-as-it-gets Little Rock come roaring out?

During the session I got what my aunt calls “blitz-called” from the student who called me mom last year. I promised her I’d come visit when she got home from her summer program that day. She left three voice mails and called seven times, “Mizz L, it’s J, how you doing? I’m callin’ you back because you said you’d come over and talk today. Call me back.” My heart was singing. It’s this student who told me that my best college friend’s mom was sick, because they were paired in the pen-pal project last year, and they’ve been writing over the summer. J has called me at least once a week to update me on her life since school ended.

So back to this car.

After getting it jumped three times my first day of PD just to get it out of the co-op parking lot, I bought a new battery. Drove 45 minutes home, 45 minutes back the second day, 45 minutes home. All was well until my run today.

As JL and I observe the great car revival, roommate comes home, starts texting a football coach to see what to do or who to bring it to. In the meantime I’m calling a local friend to see where he takes his truck and/or if he knows anything about cars. After him, I call my Delta Dad, the main custodian at my school, who doesn’t pick up. No one has a solid answer.

We decide to disconnect the cables and try to get to O’Reilly’s.

Dies in the street. Again, JL pushes it back into the drive.

My landlord, who lives across the street, is in his yard with his wife, doing physical therapy with their recently coma-resting dog Lily. I bound over to ask for advice. He immediately says, “Oh you want to check the alternator? I’ll show you how to do that?” He pops immediately in his truck, and in the time it takes him to drive directly across the street from his driveway to mine, that football coach Chuck was texting is in my driveway as well, ready to check to see if he can see what’s wrong.

Here I stand, tiny Delta girl with a quiet car, surrounded by four men ready to help with immediacy. Mr. Landlord jumped my car via his huge white truck in a grand total of five seconds. I survey my kingdom with delight: Caroline, Dumas Delta Queen.

As Mr. Landlord pops one of the wires from the battery to prove that the alternator is working just fine, Delta Dad drives by and waves. I assure him that four men is likely to be enough, and thank you so much for such a personal response to my missed call.

Turns out the kid that installed my new battery didn’t connect the wiring so well, and Mr. Landlord is coming by tomorrow to clamp it more securely.

Turns out the Delta is the greatest place on earth.

2 Responses

  1. Jessica Lange

    This post me smile. I hope a clamp change-a-roo fixes your car forever and always, or as close to always as you can get!

  2. Cindy

    It’s good to be Queen.

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