Teaching John Steinbeck, Part 3, Getting There

Lois blogsNorthridge:  Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences… 1st School…

Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences is a far piece from Lisa and Kathryn’s Hollywood home.  I head south on Deronda Dr, turn right onto Rodgerton Dr, turn left onto Ledgewood Dr, turn right onto N Beechwood Dr, turn slight right to merge onto US-101N, take US-101N 4.3 mi, turn slight left onto CA-170 N/Hollywood Fwy (follow signs for Sacramento), take exit 11B for Interstae 5N toward Sacramento, merge onto I-5N, take exit 156A toward CA-118W, merge onto CA-118W, take exit 40A for Balboa Blvd, turn left onto Balboa Blvd, turn right onto San Jose St, destination will be on the left.  Forty four minutes later, having followed the google map directions to the best of my google map abilities, I arrive at the cement fortress, in total and complete physical and emotional disarray.  Finding your way on the first day of school is a crucial component to becoming a top notch teaching artist.  I do not use a Garmin GPS, so I often make some wrong turns in rough neighborhoods.

I park in a mammoth parking garage designated solely for Valley Academy of Arts and Sciences.  I walk down an alley directly off bustling Balboa Blvd, I traipse up the steep stone steps, walk into the lively office, introduce myself, sign in, meet a young man from the Northridge theater venue.  He introduces himself.  If you think I can remember his name, you would be mistaken.  We chat about California’s lack of funding for the arts in public schools.  We chat about education’s endless possibilities to change lives.  If only, if only.  We walk through a cement courtyard filled with multi racial teenagers screaming at each other while texting each other on cell phones; a cyberspace phenomena.  The young man opens the door to the first classroom of the month on the road teaching John Steinbeck.

From this point forward I will refer to inspired teachers as A teachers, and uninspired teachers as B teachers.  Lucky for me my first teacher is an A+ teacher.  She has dedicated herself to the noble profession for many years.  She is a drama teacher.  She is fed up with testing, fed up with lack of funds, and fed up with the lack of support for her department.  She is thinking of quitting.

“What’s the point?”  She says.

She is another gifted teacher disappointed in a broken system.  California’s budgetary problems have an impact on her school year.  School days have been cut.  There is a possibility that 20 more school days might be slashed from an already short school year.  It will be decided in the 2012 election.  Many important issues will be decided in that election.  Ms. A+ and I talk politics and public school.  She tells me there will be some ninth graders in my first class.

I moan out loud.  “Oh no!  Not ninth graders.”

“They’re not so bad.  They’re good kids.”

“They’re ninth graders!  The only thing worse than ninth graders is eighth graders!”

She laughs.  I weep.  I think of Lenny, his hands up or down some unsuspecting ninth grader’s dress.  I see it happening, even though it does not happen in either the play or the book.  I see Lenny and his hands.  Those hands.  Those hands get him in so much trouble.  He loves the feel of  soft things; rabbits, puppies, soft hair.  Touch is Lenny’s way into life’s beauty.  Touch hypnotizes Lenny.  Then he loses control.  He loses himself inside sensation.  Don’t we all love the feel of things; things that turn us on, make us feel alive, make us hungry with desire.  Don’t we love those pretty soft things?  I will broach the world of touch, the sensation of touch with these kids.  I do not care how old they are.  They are ready for touch.  Teenagers need to be touched.  They need to touch, to feel the world, to see the world, to understand the world through their hands, just like Lenny, even if it is dangerous… especially because it is dangerous.

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