Saturday, May 12, 2007

Walking the Tight Rope

For weeks now, since getting accepted to graduate school, I have not been able to focus on writing. I am full of excitement that gets interrupted by great waves of guilt that come rushing in unexpectedly. I try to walk it off.

I have been released somewhat from the dull stretch of being in a classroom all day, with no windows. I was moved a month ago to a new location in Chelsea to teach three days a week. This is the sweetest thing since my acceptance letter. Eversince I started working this gig, I spend days and sometimes weeks without seeing the blue sky of midday. My boss enforced my half an hour lunch break to fit the schedule of the students. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I have a real lunch hour. When class ends, I walk to the main office near Lincoln Center. It is glorious. I can walk from 25th street to 61st in an hour. I stride down 9th Ave through Hell’s Kitchen feeling nostalgic because the area is one of the few remaining sections of New York City that still looks somewhat similar to what is was in the Eighties when I first arrived. I bounce along in my blue high top Keds, a pair of blue Dixies and a t-shirt. I have started to skip the dress code lately. A collared shirt and slacks feels like a barrier between me and the newly assigned participants.

They are a complex bunch. I have had two sessions with all three of my new groups, and I know it is early, but in adult education time is not on anyone’s side. Some of the students have been with the organization almost 4 months. They will be timing out of their 6-month work assignments by the end of June. It is frustrating. Today I discovered that one of my students is not even interested in being in the class because she doesn’t like school and never has. I asked her why she signed up for the session. She told me that she felt like she had no choice. She was reluctant to explain. I was curious. She needed health insurance. I was puzzled.

She had a job as a home health aide. She was laid off for lack of a medical form. The medical was not completed because she didn’t have health insurance. In order to get health insurance, she had to apply for Public Assistance, which makes her eligible for Medicaid. To remain qualified for Medicaid, one has to comply with all of the conditions of P.A. including accepting a job assignment. Accepting the job assignment means having to deal with a counselor
Who assist with all sorts of options for “training” some of it whether you want it or not. Not accepting means being dropped from the program and the possibility of losing housing subsidies, food stamps, health insurance among other government assisted resources.

What am I to do with people who are not even close to testing into classes preparing for the GED Exam? I spend days demonstrating and having students create sentences that include subjects and verbs. I teach students how to use the dictionary. For many, they don’t understand that the dictionary is a tool to be used in writing. Few like writing and don’t see its purpose past the essay on the equivalency exam.

It is taxing to get folks comfortable with one another to have a discussion. I keep saying writing starts with speaking. If you can’t have a conversation how can you write? Writing is a conversation that you put on paper. I worry about them. Many of the people I serve will always be on the periphery of the conversation. I wonder whose fault that is.

But while I wring my hands getting students interested in articles, take part in discussion about them, demonstrate where to put the decimal point and memorizing time tables, I remind myself that that the details of their lives may be more pressing than first thought.