I should've known something was up when I walked into the main office, first thing in the morning, on Day 1 of Teacher Appreciation Week. The usual roiling scrum of teachers, normally reserved for the area surrounding the schools' lone copy machine, had expanded by approximately 20 additional bodies and had migrated five feet away, to a counter on which three pans of freshly baked squares of coffee cake had just arrived. I knew this, not because I could see past the expanding herd of rapacious educators - some of whom I hadn't seen outside of their classroom in years - but because the unmistakable aroma of baked brown sugar permeated the entire administration building, luring me from all the way from my car in the faculty parking lot.
As underappreciated as teachers are, a good amount of our collective plight is self-inflicted. Far too many teachers are waddling time bombs of diabetes, obesity, and heart disease. Nevertheless, we decry our students' mass consumption of candy and soda, only to turn around and devour 900-calorie crullers like they're Tic-Tacs. Prick the average teacher with a pin and he'll likely bleed heavy cream.
School administrators have caught on to this, concluding that nothing appeases masses of overworked, perpetually underpaid educators quite like the wholesome, crumbly goodness of warm, moist government coffee cake.
And so, the sugary blocks of heaven are offered by our leadership on the morning following any one of the three following indignities: The announcement of furloughs, budget cuts, or layoffs; Back to School or Open House nights, in which the workday can exceed 14 hours without a break; riots or bomb scares, in which a campus "lockdown" decree is typically issued for students and teachers to remain in their respective classrooms, usually for hours at a time; and, as I've mentioned, on Day 1 of Teacher Appreciation Week.
Personally, I don't have anything against the coffee cake itself, nor the intent behind it. But, realizing my own limitations as a sugar junkie, I stay away from things that will put me on a slippery slope to a lap band and a Rascal. And while I can see how much unmitigated joy the coffee cake brings to my fellow staff members, it's joy that is fleeting, unhealthy, and eerily narcotic - like a morbidly obese lab rat slurping on a bottle of sugar water until he literally keels-over from hyper-pleasure. There's an array of things that teachers want and need that are exceedingly more useful than a block of warm sugar-butter at seven in the morning.
I'm not asking for a complete overhaul of the way in which teachers are assessed and compensated, or a brand new template for educating hard-to-reach kids. Granted, both of those things need to happen sooner rather than later, but for Teacher Appreciation Week, I'll settle for modest changes - little things that would go a long way toward making our jobs easier, more efficient, and yes, even more pleasurable. Here are my top three requests:
An extra minute between passing periods
Picture this: You're a teacher, smack in the middle of giving a lesson on class disparity in The Great Gatsby, and you have to go. Badly. But the period's only half over, and you're responsible for 40-plus rambunctious teenagers and their collective appreciation for self-loathing, alcoholic authors from the Jazz Age. Can't leave the room now. No way. You're In loco parentis. You scowl. You clench. You practice the mind-over-matter dogma that has recently earned you no less than a yellow belt in tae kwon do. Yellow. Don't think of yellow. Sweat forms on your forehead (you actually feel it forming). Every open box and container in the room takes on new meaning. But there are no timeouts in teaching, no "I'll-be-back-with-you-in-just-a-moments"; students cast befuddled glances:
"Are you okay, Mr. Cohen? You look mad."
Five minutes until the bell. Four...three...two...one...Mercifully, it rings. You bolt out of your classroom, wading through a tidal wave of shuffling, somnambulant pylons. Finally, you reach the nearest faculty restroom, a converted custodian's closet furnished with the toilet bowl from Saw, a sink that runs only cold water and a sign that reminds you to lavas sus manos! Somebody's in there. You know this because you've already rapped on the door. Who's in there? What's taking so long? You knock again. No answer. On your third attempt, you hear "IN HERE! GOD!" Two minutes left until the late bell rings for fourth. Students are no doubt lining up outside your classroom, muttering, "What the hell? We always have to be on time." One minute. The door swings open. "Sheesh," your colleague says, squirming past, "Be more impatient!"
Students shuffle past. A P.A. announcement, threatening an imminent tardy sweep that will never occur, echoes throughout campus.
Okay, everyone: Let's get to class. Teachers, please have all late students report to the detention room immediately.
Kids scoff and roll their eyes. Detention room? On our campus, no such thing exists.
Thirty seconds. I glance into the closet-cum-crapper. It'll have to wait until fifth period; I'll have to hold it. Again. I turn and rush back to my classroom. Once there, I'm met with a sea of disapproving eyes and a chorus of admonishments: "Mister, how come you get to be late?"
An end, once and for all, to "pink pile":
While we're on the subject of restrooms, do you remember that pink, grainy substance that used to dump out of soap dispensers back in grade school? Believe it or not, it's still in wide use, at least behind the perpetually-stuck-in-the-1970s curtain of the LAUSD. Pink pile: It's in the student restrooms, it's in the faculty restrooms, and it must be eliminated. For one thing, these ominous granules contain virtually no lathering or sanitizing properties whatsoever.
So when using a LAUSD restroom, the cleanliness of your hands is completely dependent on a two-second explosion of freezing water, the friction of your hands rubbing vigorously to and fro, and pink sand. On several occasions, I've also noticed, with horror, the curious technique custodians employ to load the pink dust into their dispensers. First, they don surgical masks and thick rubber gloves; then, after loading the stuff, they meticulously scrub all of its remnants from the surfaces of the sink and floor with a dry, greenish cleaning solution (generic Comet, perhaps?), leaving no trace of the granules anywhere. This begs the two-pronged question: Should I be concerned that our school's janitors wear ersatz HAZMAT suits to fill the soap dispensers, and is it strange that they clean up any loose bits of pink pile with what appears to be a dry, mint green, powdery sediment - green pile?
INT. L.A. COUNTY COURTROOM - 2020.
A PROSECUTING ATTORNEY, representing over 50,000 the teachers, students and administrators, instructs a FORMER LAUSD OMBUDSMAN to recite the substance's ingredients from the label of one of its canisters.
"Uh, ground up fiber glass insulation...saltpeter...agent orange...babies' tears... -
"No further questions, your honor."
(A colleague of mine once observed that you can determine whether or not a person washes his hands by returning to the scene of the crime after he leaves the restroom and glancing down at the porcelain surface of the sink beneath the soap dispenser. If there's a mound of pink granules that have leaked onto the surface, the person is sanitary; if not, he's a filthy pig. Hence the substance's name: pink pile.)
A piece of fruit
Another faculty meeting, another code orange for my fat gene. Upon entering the library, I gaze forlornly at a table that beckons me with a cache of creamy, lardy goodness. On some professional development days, nearly all of the food pyramid's luscious profanities are on full display. Crullers the length of my arm? Check. Glazed jelly doughnuts? Check. Those pink, iced, sprinkly, mass-produced butter cookies straight from the Ralphs' baked goods section? Check. And yet nary an apple nor carrot stick to be found.
As a recovering sweets junkie, it's hard enough for me to avoid these slabs of ecstasy even when they aren't virtually shoved in my face during my biologically predetermined snack time. And though, like the coffee cake offerings, I do appreciate the tacit acknowledgment by my bosses that some of the more aggravating aspects of our job call for immediate relief, there are better alternatives to jamming teachers' faces with logs of sugar and saturated fat - or, as one health-conscious colleague of mine puts it, "Fat Teacher Food." How about reallocating the funds used for purchasing these mounds of empty calories for faculty yoga and pilates classes, an on-site fitness trainer or nutrition consultant, or even coupons to Whole Foods? Maybe then I'll be able to afford an organic broccoli stalk there.