New teachers go out in the portables, the moveable classrooms celebrating their 23rd year in the parking lot, the N-campus shacks where the carpet dampens every time it rains. (Leaks above and below. The rain somehow seeps from the ground and the kids hang their backpacks on chairs to protect their textbooks.) I heard last year a teacher here went on sick leave because the mold behind the walls was so thick she couldn’t breathe right.

See, teachers (mostly new ones) and students (mostly frosh) in the not-so-portable portables aren’t burdened by distractions like clocks, bells, or fire alarms. When there’s a fire alarm we wait for a kid from another class to open the door and WE’RE HAVING A FIRE DRILL CAN NICK COME OUT and HOW COME WE DON’T HAVE A FIRE ALARM and my yelling over THIS IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO PRACTICE FLEXIBILITY AND PATIENCE and ADMINISTRATORS WANT TO GIVE US AS MUCH INSTRUCTIONAL TIME AS POSSIBLE.

This is where I landed. In the Stationeries N-Campus (N for “Nowhere”?). This morning I found a rat keeled over in the hallway, clutching its stomach. When I told my principal about it and said a less dead rat bee-lining for the bologna in an innocent student’s backpack would be the end of learning as we know it, she said, “I have great faith in your ability to turn it into a teachable moment.”

She’s right. If they don’t fumigate soon, I will send a note home to the parents of all my students: “So that everyone may learn and be healthy, I need you to update your child’s shots. Please call the main office and let the principal know your child’s immunization status.” I’ve been told I should be grateful to have my own room, thankful I’m not one of the teachers more portable than me, who lug grocery carts full of markers and poster supplies around campus.

I don’t listen. This is a teachable moment, and I won’t compare my happiness to the lowest common denominator.

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