I sit on a cold, hard stool looking across the room. Shiny floor, wooden legs holding up slate-black tables of a science lab. The walls, surprisingly, are not white, not institutional white. One wall is the soft mocha of a delightful drink, the other the cream color of a pastry from the same establishment.
This is far better than the three other building where I logged my time as a teacher. One, in the larger metropolis to the north, had nothing but institutional white walls. Cold, depressing, with hints of blue… not the blue of the sky, but institutional blue. Both colors, or lack of colors, had years of time given off their pale atmosphere. They might have been bright and cheery at one point, but time and students faded them to depressing hues.
The teachers try to make the best of it. They place signs on their walls declaring such things as “home sweet classroom.” Which is quite pathetic given the situation. Their homes must be dreadful. But even with the signs of false hope, institutional wins out every time.
The teachers, given that they spend so much time in the institutions, love the thought of their jobs being part of a family.
Just about every school I’ve been a part of, during the long, dreadful days of training before the onslaught of disrespect and disdain hits us, the leader stands before us and tries to claim “we are family.” With the damn song as well. The zealots for the concept jump up and start dancing. This is intended to make us feel like we are family… for the moment.
The underlying contract dispels this notion as the year plods on. If we are family, then family is not worth being. If we are family, how come some get fired? How come members disappear in the middle of the year. Gone. Suddenly. The weak bonds of family broken, gone. The dearly departed, never to be heard from again, as if they had broken the secret code of the family and are now banished to outer darkness, with the weepers and gnashers of teeth.
To be banished by the institutional family, quickly shows it for the facade it is. No calls. No contact. Lepers find more compassion. Again, the institution wins out. It can be quite depressing.
NOTE: I wrote this, after having to read part of the Handmaid’s Tale to one of my students. I was inspired? by the literature of the day. If you think my piece is depressing, which it is, imagine the steady diet of literature we feed our students. It’s always depressing, dark, and depressing. By the way, have I mentioned that it’s depressing?
All photos are copyright © Timothy J. Hammons, 2021.