Friday, February 02, 2007

01-29-2007 – the Edutorium

Man… other than the brief moments of democracy that’ve taken me back into the power-polished wood, multi-sport courtlines and tempera-painted paper banners of various gymnasia, it’s been years since I’ve been in such a schooly place. Edmonton Public Schools’ education centre on Kingsway, Temple of Teaching, high-water mark of pre-Klein institutional investment. Nowadays, this would all be ATCO portables… or a million twenty-dollar cheques… or a Ski-Doo dealership…

Wah! See how quickly the teacher-vibe kicks in? The cast-concrete of the Centre’s atrium plaza has been steeped in a decade-and-a-half of cutback frustration and tooth-and-claw Unionism. I’ve only been in the place for one day, four hours of light classtime teaching Grade 5 & 6 kids the basics of ghost-story writing (three pulp paperbacks hacked out on contract make me the expert, right?), and already I’m burnt out and identity-confused, jittered with caffeine and post-performance adrenaline, wondering how my little honorarium will affect my pension profile…

Teachers, with shaking hands I salute you! I’d always known – well, accepted the received knowledge -- that teaching was “a hard job” but never really had a taste of it until today. How do you do it? What does it take to get through period after period, day after day, year after year of looking out at those terrifying little faces in all their confounding variety: the slackjawed little drones, the razor-sharp keeners, the daydreamers, the superstars, the friendless, the insufferable shits you’d want to strangle if they weren’t so goddamn funny, the lost ones hiding miles behind eyes full of enough trouble to sink a heart?

You do it with coffee and cigarettes, from what I remember and what I’ve seen today – though there seems to be a lot less tobacco use now than when I was rocking the post-boom portables and Mrs. Trout would come back from her prep period with breath like mentholized dogshit. Also, there’s the rapturous golden vision of Retirement Day to keep a teacher going; lunchtime is still animated by pension conversations, brag/bitching on the possibilities and pitfalls of maximizing the material comforts of a well-earned permanent vaction.

And, yeah, I see how the kids are motivators in themselves. Granted, my sessions today have been the Disney Experience of teaching, “Pirates of the Caribbean” to twenty years under Captain Morgan, but I can glimpse the reality. The shit these kids come up with, in just half an hour of longhand burst-writing -- just amazing! Our topic was “Writing Ghost Stories," so I expected some of the mildly macabre schoolyard spookiness – it’s heartnening to know that, after all these years, every single schoolkid knows the legend of Bloody Mary – but the Craven-on-acid outlines these kids were dropping were something else.

“The Chainsaw Manicure”: A guy goes for a haircut, but he’s drunk and goes into a nail parlor by mistake and gets the full treatment. Driven mad by his accidental feminization, he swears chainsaw revenge on all estheticians and ladies with acrylic gels.

“Untiltled”: A necromancer creates a half-zombie, half-vampire, half-werewolf creature (it’s so weird it defies mathematical laws) to guard his money. When he goes to get some of his money (to pay back the fellow necromancer who taught him how to make the zomvamwolf) his own creature kills him and drains his spirit and uses that power to escape into outer space.

“A Night in the School”: M’kaela, Jason, Mercedes, Kayeley, Heather, Jesika, Tyler, Michael D. and Michael R. decide to spend the night in the school. The rest is a mystery; the session ended before the author could get past introducing her characters.

“The FART!!!!”: A guy calls his wife over and (“Beware,” the author interjects, “the next is cotent not sutable for chidren!”) FAAAARRRRTs! on her. So she kills him with a butcher knife and he comes back as a farting ghost. FARRRRT!
And so on. Today was such a blur of dark basements, insane asylums, evil prisons (lots of evil prisons), cursed sombreros, soul-sucking, ritual murder, torture, demonic possession, satan-worshipping, crying little girls in white gowns, knives, swords, power tools, power failures, super powers and characters with all the terrible names with which parents these days are saddling their kids that I can’t keep it all straight. Pretty much every kid there had seen every SAW movie, and one session got derailed for ten minutes in a heated discussion over who would win in a fight between Freddy and Jason.

I hate to say it, but that was a high point for me, getting the chance to moderate a modern revisitation of a discussion my friends and I originated when we were in Grade 5 ourselves. It made me think that if I were to change careers, maybe I’d go back to school and…

…and, what am I thinking? No way! Not for all the job security and summer vacation in the world. I’m a coffee-drenched, trembling wreck, spiritually drained, craving a smoke, a nap and a drink, in whatever order I happen to stumble into them. I’ll leave the work of civilizing this horror-soaked generation of hellraisers to the halitotic hard-cases who can handle it.

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