Monday, November 23, 2015

Stepping into a new dementia

When I was at CISD, students who wanted to skip class were always looking for an empty classroom to loiter in. Unless I kept my door locked during my conference period, I could expect to be interrupted 2-3 times in a 50-min period: "Hey Miss, can Dwayne and I chill here witchu?" or "Yo, Ms. M! Wussup?" 

With my door locked, it meant my doorknob rattled a lot, but once students realized the door wasn't going to open they went on to check the next classroom.  So when I heard the doorknob rattle during my conference period one day, I ignored it. But the sound didn’t stop. In fact, the rattling grew more insistent. This was unusual enough for me to get up and unlock the door.

I immediately wished I hadn't. Ms. Washington, one of our assistant principals, stood there with a student at her elbow. I shivered. 

As you know by now, everything at CISD was cringe-worthy, but Ms. Washington was especially irritating. Imagine a person with the worst personality traits of the most unlikable characters from The Office, and you come close to Ms. Washington. She had Toby's blank stare, Angela's humorless personality, and Dwight's one-track mind. If she had Meredith's alcoholism or Creed's criminal tendencies, she might have been truly terrifying. As it was, she was just offensive.

I stood there with the door opened just a foot or so. “Can I help you?” I asked, in a way that I hoped sounded unhelpful. 

Ms. Washington cleared her throat and began speaking in her obnoxious monotone, putting emphasis on the most unlikely words.  “Ms. Gibbons says that SHE gave you a textbook for the TSP test.  We need it for a student.” She jerked her head to indicated the student standing next to her. 

“Um, I don’t have it,” I replied.  "Sorry." I waited for her to move on so I could shut the door. 

"You don't have a textbook for the TSP test?" 

Oh my gosh, I thought, here we go. "No, I've never met with Ms. Gibbons, and she's never given me any textbooks.  No one has ever given me anything for a TSP test. I don't even know what the TSP test is." I made a move to shut the door, but Ms. Washington had already moved into the doorway and was peering over my shoulder as if she expected to find the book sitting on one of the student desks. 

“Ms. Gibbons was very specific that SHE gave the book to MS. MAR-LANE for the READING class. Let me just see if it's here," she said and pushed into my room. The student she had come with stayed in the hall.

Irritated, I reminded her, "I’m Ms. Mar-LOWE."  I decided it wasn't worth telling her that we didn't even have a Ms. Marlane in the school.

Ms. Washington turned to face me and just blinked. “Yeah.  We need the textbook.” 

I sighed. "I think this is a misunderstanding. I don't have it.  I didn't even get the textbooks I requested for yearbook."

Ms. Washington ignored me.  “It’s got a black wire binder..."

I interrupted her. “I can tell you that I have no textbooks, and I’ve never gotten textbooks from anyone."

“Well,” long pause, “Can you check?”

“And where would you like me to check?”  I didn't know whether or not to burst out laughing or start screaming.

Ms. Washington motioned towards my desk.  “In there, in case someone put it in there.”

People hide textbooks in my desk?  Unbelievable. Walking to my desk, I noticed that the student in the hall had disappeared. Smart girl. Would Ms. Washington ever disappear so I could get some work done? I pulled open my desk drawers. “You’re welcome to look if you’d like,” I said, gesturing to them.

Ms. Washington suddenly pointed at my bookshelf.  “What are all those?”

I raised my eyebrows. Was she joking?  “They're yearbooks."

“These are all yearbooks? That's a lot of yearbooks."

"Well, you know, I am the YEARBOOK teacher." It was becoming skin-crawlingly clear that my assistant principal of curriculum didn't know who I was or what I taught.  But hey, it was only the second semester of the school year. 

She walked over to the shelf, pulled out a yearbook, flipped through it, then put it back on the shelf. I leaned against my desk with my arms crossed, watching her. She went through four yearbooks this way. Did she think I had hidden the TSP workbook inside one of the yearbooks? Did she even remember why she was here?  

Ms. Washington rifled through a few more books and then stopped, turning back to me. “So you’ve never seen it.”  This time, she phrased her question as a declarative statement. Was this progress? Unfamiliar as I was with her rules of engagement, I didn’t respond but just blinked at her.

We stared at each other in silence for a second or two, then she moved toward the door. "Well, Ms. Marlane, when you find it let me know." 

"Sure thing, Ms. Portland," I said as she left the room. I couldn't resist.

Ms. Washington stopped and turned back toward me. For a brief second, I wondered if she'd realized I was mocking her and my stomach sank. Crap, I'd gone too far. Instead, she gestured to the empty hallway: "Where'd Keisha go? She was right here." 

"You mean the student? I don't know. You could try Ms. Mar-LANE'S room. Kids usually hang out there during her conference period." 

Ms. Washington nodded and moved down the hall, looking for a student she would never find in a teacher's room that didn't exist. 

I shut and locked the door, remembering the last time Ms. Washington had come to my room. It was two months ago and she said she had folders for special ed students “who are in your first period.”  When I told her that I didn't have a first-period class, she shoved the folder into my hands anyway and left.  I opened the folder to see the IEPs of three students.  Printed on the outside of the folder in black marker was another teacher's name, Coach Willard.  He teaches social studies. 

Maybe the TSP workbook is in his room?