“Teachers’ Working Conditions are Students’ Learning Conditions” *
The mold in my classroom was already there the year I moved in, but it didn’t concern me too much. Throughout my 16 year teaching career I’d worked in two schools, several different classrooms, and several different offices in the LAUSD. I’d seen some weird stuff and had worked in much worse conditions.
But then it started to spread. I took some pictures and showed them to my AP:
Months passed and the entire perimeter of the ceiling contained mold and the tiles began to sag:
Then, one weekend, L.A. got hit with some unexpectedly hard rain and when I entered my bungalow on Monday morning, it looked like a tsunami had hit. Water had saturated every wall, ruining every poster, piece of student work, and bulletin board in the room. My classroom library, that I’d purchased mostly myself, had been displayed on the aluminum marker rail on my whiteboards and was in the direct path of the rainwater. Every book was soggy and warped, some of them sat in puddles on the floor. These were the books that my FBB** students, many of whom admitted they had never actually read a book, were reading.
The seven classroom computers, which were an integral part of my curriculum, had also been rained on. Moldy bits of tile littered the technology. Hard drives sat in pools of stagnant water. Again, and with a much greater sense of urgency, I told my AP.
Four hours later, one of our maintenance workers showed up with a bucket and mop. “I was told you need a clean up over here?” he asked me with a smile. (This was a guy whose wife had a baby about a year after my daughter was born. He was often the recipient of my daughter’s hand-me-down clothes and toys, and our families had become acquainted outside of school. He was always willing to go the extra mile for me.)
Before I could answer he took a visual survey of the room. “Holy sh!t. Your room got hit hard,” was his response after I’d already been cleaning up for four hours. He pulled the remaining bookshelves and file cabinets away from the walls, lined the floor with stacks of paper towels, and mopped the larger puddles. All of this was happening while I was supposed to be teaching.
He laughed and shook his head when he saw the bucket I’d placed on the floor to catch the water that was still dripping from the ceiling. It was the “emergency” bucket that every LAUSD teacher has in case the school goes on lockdown and students are forced to stay inside the classroom for several hours. The bucket is supposed to be used as the class bathroom, and teachers are encouraged to bring their own sheets from home to hang from the ceiling in case a “private” area needs to be created. (There’s actually a safety video out there, somewhere in the LAUSD, that demonstrates different ways to use the sheets as walls so that students can poop in the bucket without their classmates watching.)
The janitor left as the tech guy (another friendly person who always gave me a heads up when there was a sale on diapers at amazon.mom) arrived. He spent the rest of the day dealing with my soggy electronics and had everything dried out and working by the week’s end. The rain stopped and I was able to put the emergency bucket back in the closet, but nothing else happened to fix the ceiling problem. It bugged me, but I had some teaching to do. The battle of the moldy, saggy ceiling was one I had neither the time, nor the energy, to fight.
But then, a few months later, it started to rain again. Coincidentally, a colleague/good friend/the guy who was in the bungalow the year before me, stopped by that morning to talk about lesson plans. He looked at the ceiling and said, “Wow, they still haven’t fixed that? I reported it to the AP when I had this room last year. My students kept getting sick and I think it could have been from the mold.”
Infuriated, I bypassed AP, found the principal, and told him that I thought the reason I kept getting upper respiratory infections was because of the black mold growing in my classroom. I showed him the pictures. He said it was the first he’d heard of it and that he would take care of it.
Fifteen minutes into my next class, AP showed up (the one whose head I’d gone over). He would not look me in the eye. ”You’ve got five minutes to get your things together. We’re evacuating your classroom indefinitely.”
“Five minutes? But I teach a computer-based reading program. There is nowhere else I can teach these classes that you mandated I teach.”
He shrugged and mumbled while I grabbed my purse, my lunch, and my lesson plans. My textbooks weighed at least 34 lbs. each so those were left behind. That day I taught my classes on the football field. The next day it was my responsibility to find empty classrooms to use, and I had to travel to a new one for each class.
One week later I was given the green light to return to my room. Turns out the mold wasn’t toxic. That same day an animal (that turned out to be a raccoon) died under my bungalow. The smell of the rotting carcass was so intense, one of my student’s threw up. Again, I was displaced as the LAUSD carpentry department was called in to rip up the floor and locate the dead body. We also had to wait for animal control to remove it.
Weary of our circumstance, but relieved to get some fresh air, my FBBs trekked back to the football field to read, “The Lady or the Tiger?”.
* a quote from Diane Ravitch in her speech on Public Education, Privatization, and Professionalization.
** Far Below / Below Basic: This level represents a serious lack of performance. Students demonstrate little or a flawed understanding of the knowledge and skills measured by this assessment, at this grade, in this content area.