Yesterday I started a series of posts I plan on doing about students I remember. Thinking about past students also got me thinking about past colleagues.
Obviously the teachers I mentioned in the post, I was unimpressed with. That has not been the case overall, necessarily. I've worked with a lot of great people.
My first year out of teacher school, the 1998-1999 school year, I worked as a seventh grade Social Studies/Language Arts teacher at Spencer Elementary School. It is in the Austin neighborhood, the same one I teach in now. It's a physically beautiful, but rough neighborhood on Chicago's West Side.
The job was pretty rough. By seventh grade, a lot of the kids were into a lot of bad things. Over the course of the year, two of my students were shot-- one in a drive-by, and one while playing with a gun. We had innumerable pregnancies. One weekend, students in the seventh grade were involved in a sexual assault, both as perpetrators and victims. The pathology was exhausting. Despite it all, though, you still had to go in and try to teach.
To make matters worse, we had the two stupidest administrators I've ever worked for. I've worked in schools with a bad principal, and I've worked in schools with a bad assistant-principal, but that was the only one I worked at where neither administrator could find their ass with both hands.
Later, I found out that a number of the students in our seventh grade had gone on to good high schools in Chicago, and I imagine eventually to college. We had a great, dedicated staff, and I'm proud to have been part of that staff
The school was so rough that off-duty Chicago police officers were hired to hang out on each floor. I got to be friends with Hector Alfaro, the officer who was on my floor every morning.
Hector worked third shift. He would come work a few hours in the school as he came off of his police shift. He'd head home and sleep, waking up to be up when his kids came home from school.
I'd brought a coffee maker in, and would brew an extra couple of cups for Hector, which he greatly appreciated. At the beginning of the day, he'd walk down the hall to have a cup of coffee and chat after I got my students working on their assignments.
We talked a lot about our kids, and of history, an interest we shared. I found that Hector's parents were both from Mexico. He'd done a hitch as a Marine as a young man. I discovered that he'd been in Beirut, Lebanon at the same time my brother was, in 1983/1984.
There were a lot of bad days at that job. A lot of days, my morning coffee and chat with Hector was all that got me through the day.
I was RIF'ed (teacher talk for "laid off") at the end of the year. I pretty much knew it was coming the day I threw the assistant principal out of my room as he tried to yell at me in front of my students.
I've kept in touch with some of the people I've worked with over the years. I owe my current job to a friend from that year who was the 7th Grade Language Arts teacher. Hector and I lost touch, and I wondered once in a while whatever happened to him. He was a bright guy, and I figured that by now, he'd made sergeant or some other promotion. He was one of the people I was thinking about yesterday.
This morning, when I got to work and went to check my email, the Comcast portal had a story: 2 Wounded in Chicago Classroom Shooting. I hadn't heard about this yesterday, so I clicked on the story. And there was Hector. I googled him and found that since I'd last seen him, he'd become the News Affairs Officer for the Chicago Police Department. I was right-- he had moved up in the ranks.
I was glad to know he's doing well. Frankly, I'm glad to know he's off the streets. Like me, his kids are approaching college age, and I imagine he appreciates the extra income and the relative safety of his position.
I was struck by the coincidence of thinking of him, then reading about him in a news story the next day. Things like that keep happening in my life.
Sometimes all you have to do is ask.