Day 109 Monday, March 15, 2010: “King Rat”


Today is Day 109 of my time left at the Mont. It is also the Ides of March and the District/Sperintentdent/LD7-mini-Superintendent/administrative deadline to reapply, cap-in-hand, to remain at the Mont.


It is also the day I saw the end of Fremont. You see, there is a rat in my room, even as I write. Heard it a few minutes ago.


When I arrived at 5:20 a.m. and moved my podium, a large brown rat ran from behind my podium and ran into a cabinet, squeezing its large fat body (hey, I can say that at my weight) through the gap at the bottom of the closed doors. Quickly, I moved a heavy chair I built and closed the door, trapping the rat. I discovered an opening wherein our little visitor squeezed into my class—at least I assume that because of the large amount of fecal matter. Took a picture. Have to remember to post it. It also left… deposits on the tables where the students sit—took a few pics of that, too.


The office was informed by 6:45 (have to wait for bodies to show up to answer questions) and I was told someone would be sent. Silly me, I figured removing the rodent would probably be better before students showed up. No Pied Piper appeared by 7:35, and so the next step was to tell one of the APs herding students to class; said AP walked away both from two of my girls and from me. Next step, send the girls to the principal. Shortly after they returned, the AP came in to my room and asked, “Where is it?” I pointed. About ten minutes later the plant manager came up with a dustpan and broom. I had to break it to him gently that “trapped” did not mean “in a rat trap,” but “locked in my cabinet.” He searched, then said he’d be back with traps. That was three-and-a-half hours ago.


Maybe the rat is my replacement… Nah… But it does fit with the omen Juan Puentes wrote about in February. (Now I’ve got Gregory Peck in my skull, “It’s—an omen.”) I also just had a student who did very little last semester floor me with, “Isn’t this the Ides of March? Wasn’t that something Julius Caesar saw?” Hey, he referenced Ides of March and remembered the dictator Julius Caesar, even remembering from last semester that Caesar was assassinated after he got himself declared dictator for life. What is truly sad is that in our testing culture, this will be something that no one will care that he knows. I care.


And the madness continues. I watched a “Charlie” (Fremont slang for security) by my door tell a student to remove his non-Fremont hat, per dress code. He radioed to another Charlie to take the student and his companion over to the dean’s office—and was asked by Someone of Importance, “Why did you let them into the building in the first place?” The Charlie held up his radio and looked at me. I’ve only been at the Mont for sixteen years, but I thought the entrances to the building were all on the FIRST FLOOR. Yeah, maybe that’s an example of why I need to reapply for my job, not being able to connect the dots.


It is now approaching four-and-a-half hours. Still no traps.(Great, now I’m thinking about “The Exorcist,” “No rats. No rats. I set traps. No rats.”)


I also watch a divide happening in the faculty. It will probably be as wide as the Great Rift Valley and will leave scar on the history of the Mont uglier than any strike could, uglier than the Fremont Rebellion of 2000. The rift is growing, the tension is something you can almost touch. You can see the ugliness in some of the emails and the postings; historically, what I’m seeing is during the sixteen-year-long civil war between Matilda and Stephen of Blois for the English crown, some knights and barons used the chaos of the Anarchy to attack their neighbors and settle grudges that had nothing to do with the war. Are some of us doing that? Is this the kind of New Fremont being built? If so, it is like building on a foundation of sand. Are those lovely pyramids we saw on the Powerpoint going to be stable? Some who are reapplying move as furtively as my visitor in the cabinet, with smiles that don’t reach their eyes and laughter false and brittle; today I don’t have the energy to have some dramatic scene where I “tell them off” or “give them a piece of my mind.” I try to make light of it that I can’t afford to give away any pieces of my mind; today the joke isn’t very damned funny. So the rat becomes a symbol of the day.


It is now after the first lunch, which is A Track’s. I alert two APs to the situation; they express concern and tell me they will find me a room to finish out the day in, which is a lot more pleasant than what I got earlier. To be fair, that was about forty-five minutes ago during my conference period, and we are a crowded school, so I’m still here—with my rat. The plant manager has also flown by, telling me he has to set traps after the kids leave and is calling the District Pied Piper, but he’s only doing his job.


That what most of us are doing every single bloody day. I feel like Mr. Spock in “The City on the Edge of Forever,” where, trapped in the 1930s, he is asked to perform a miracle of engineering with “stone knives and bearskins.” In a school where the toilet in the second floor men’s room lacked a toilet seat for two weeks, where we lacked hot water for several months, where adult school leaves my windows open at night and I have to chase pigeons out of the room and where I have to lock up an overhead projector because they are routinely damaged (having the third prong ripped out because someone only had a two-prong extension cord) or simply vanish, that’s what you do—work with what you have. Unlike a charter school which so many seem to favor, at a public school like Fremont, you work with the kids you are given. Give us your English Language Learners, your Special Needs, your kids from abusive homes and camps. I tell the kids that life is not a race, but a process. It shouldn’t be about a race to get the best kids and dump the leftovers in a public school. It should be helping each other up a mountain.


Maybe the Race to the Top ought to be re-dubbed “The Rat Race.” After all, it IS a rat race. The rats are winning.


By the way, the day has ended. The rat is still here. Maybe he can have my “Pathfinder For Life” sweatshirt.



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    Chuck Olynyk is a Social Studies teacher who saw the effects of reconstitution upon John C. Fremont High in Los Angeles. These are reposting of his original blogs from the Save Fremont website.


    August 2010



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