Fall 2009 Vol. 6.1
Jo Scott-Coe
Domestic Order Suite
                      The power of the dominant ideology is always domesticating,
                      and when we are touched and deformed by it we become
                      ambiguous and indecisive.

                                    —Paulo Freire, Teachers as Cultural Workers


When you see the girl assaulted in the parking lot, you must not come forward. The girl already knows this rule. The law says you teach in the place of parents, but people look at you and see: nailbiting, cardigan sweater, clipboard-in-hand, hair-in-a-bun. Didn’t you dislike the alleged perpetrator? Wasn’t he the one caught jamming nails and screws into your car tailpipe last spring? Didn’t you already report him for skulking around your classroom—something about casting “smug looks” at you? Besides, consider cause and effect. The school makes money for his attendance, so he will return to school after his five-day suspension. He will park his mother’s green BMW in the usual spot and float through campus hallways: a wronged warrior returned home.

       But forget such hypotheticals, because you won’t come forward because other cases have taught you well. There was the teacher who jammed his body between the bodies of two kids—one with a knife, one without—saving the life of one student and getting sued by the other. You recall that the teacher’s back and shoulder damage was permanent? There was the time a student grabbed a small teacher around the neck and said I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you but then said he was only joking, so the teacher faced interrogation about why and how she had allowed him to touch her. There was the teacher who received a long letter from a student, a letter naming her as an object of hatred and saying how he would “dearly love” to act out his violent thoughts towards her but instead would just repeat them to her over and over. You’re going to teach a long time, the principal said. And you can’t let them get to you. (The principal had pinched the teacher’s ass at a party and when she didn’t laugh he froze up and frowned and poured himself another martini and went to sit beside his new wife on the porch.) There was also the teacher—this one truly was asking for it—who flipped through pages of student journal assignments and found images of herself: I will come to your classroom late one night while you’re still working. I will superglue you to the wall naked and cut your feet off. I will smother you in gasoline. I will light your head on fire. I will shit in your mouth.

       You do remember other, minor incidents yourself, how a person kept coming by your closed classroom door and kicking or punching it so hard that some student in a back desk said, Damn! And because the kids had no idea what was going on, they laughed among themselves. At a distance, holding a nub of chalk, you saw a kind of humor. You know too well the cloying sound your voice makes in protest, how it seems to come from nowhere. What would it take for them to hear something strong? Not the dog poisoned behind your rose bushes, not your windshield smashed with a crowbar, not your stabbed body, not your home charred to the ground. Your life is made of hearsay. What’s real is your hair falling out and turning brittle, your eyesight weakening. What’s real is the smell of blood, like wet hamburger, between your legs—and how you keep trying to hide it. How you can’t. You scramble for toilet paper and try not to bleed on yourself. This is no place, no time for hysteria.


Keep telling yourself no one will hit you. Seriously. Not the campus supervisor, not the department chairman, not the principal or superintendent or janitor. Your bunker has four cinderblock walls. One small, square window in the metal door’s upper corner.

       You used to sing Mozart, play oboe, dig up coins and human finger bones on archaeology trips. You wore striped dresses, pointed shoes, lab coats. Then you fell in love, wanted to share your learning. Now you dig through papers made by students—a hundred here, a hundred there—dress not for weather and exploration but bunker temperature. Good bra. Tank top. Thermal shirt. Sweater you can roll up or peel off. But the bunker thermostat reads eighty degrees when cold air blows in, fifty degrees as heat bears down. No one forces you to stay, to accept this vocation. Eight hours a day, here is your starting place. Students enter the room saying It’s too hot or It stinks in here. The bell blares. They keep leaving you in the bunker with the broken thermostat. Colleagues passing by will announce, At my end of the building the temperature is exactly opposite of here. You never stray far.

       To the dented bathroom stalls and the sink, still a rust-stained trough—cold water only—the cement floor fifty years old. The lavatory. It reminds you of being a child, smelling urine near the boys’ bathroom. The faculty bathroom has not been modernized though student bathrooms have new stalls, sinks, commodes. (Inspectors visit these bathrooms, not your bathrooms.) You must not resent the students for trashing their bathrooms already. Lavatories. There are too few to go around. At least you don’t have a urinary tract infection or genital warts or hemorrhoids. You aren’t pregnant. No one has hurt you. It’s just mucus down the back of your throat, and you expectorate in the trough when you can, or else just swallow. The lack of air circulation is no one’s fault, you certainly don’t want to be just another scratched LP stuck on complaining about mildew, mold, dust. Why not take better care of yourself: more citrus, vitamin tabs, dawn walks? You can always bring a Swiffer duster, another stash of Kleenex.

       Beyond the hallway voices past the lavatory, beyond your own sneezing, you hear it—the desk phone ringing, someone calling—and rush back to your starting place. A new group of students asks, Why did you think the phone was ringing? It wasn’t ringing. The intercom blasts announcements. A student throws a book across the room. You hear thuds outside your doorway, a yelling voice you recognize: the small boy with big fists. Your bunker door can only be locked from outside. It isn’t.

       But this is paranoia, you are simply angry at your own raw throat. There’s no emergency button on the wall anymore. If you use the phone, there’s an office recording—formal, polite—a woman’s voice in your ear. If you speak, the voice may say “right away” but it could take an hour, perhaps never. Remember your Mozart? your oboe? your piles of ancient knuckles? At least you have lights, fluorescent bulbs that seem slightly surgical.

       No one sees those moments that train your attention—not the bulbs flickering, not the now-empty drawer where you swear you secured your purse. Use pink work orders for broken cabinets, the sputtering fuse, loose wires under the carpeting. Nothing that happens hurts you. No one is out to get you. Always invent a witness if you can.


What is your employee number? Can you repeat the expected schoolwide learning results? Yes. Do you know the hourly, daily, and month-by-month calendar of lessons? Yes. Have you counted and distributed test packets to students for the day? Yes. Do you take roll on the S.A.S.I. digital system? Yes. Is the system convenient? Yes. Are you a member of the teachers’ union? Yes. Are you a member of the district literacy committee? Yes. Have you completed all supervisory duties at sports events for the year? Yes. Do you sponsor a student club? Yes. Did you ride and wave from the club float in the Homecoming parade? Yes. Do you have enough time? Yes. Do you post homework assignments on the Internet? Always. Do you answer questions about homework assignments on the Internet? Always. Do you give students your home phone number and personal email? Yes. Do you label all lessons with the correct numbers of standardization, both out-loud and on the board? Yes. Do you use the Smart Board and PowerPoint software for automated instructional tasks? Yes. Do you implement all Smart Goals each day? Yes. Do you follow all scripted instructional plans? Yes. Do you consider yourself an educated person? Yes. Do you wait seven seconds for student answers after asking questions as indicated by the script? Yes. Do students give answers as indicated by the script? Yes. Have you studied the cohort analysis documents for all students tested at our school? Yes. Have you studied the item analysis documents for all students tested in your classes? Yes. Have you stopped calculating grades by hand? Yes. Have you stopped handwriting comments on student work? Yes. Do you feel you are more efficient these days? Yes. Do you attend the requisite training sessions on the latest instructional techniques? Yes. Do you enjoy the training? Yes. Do you have more time for shopping, painting your nails, exercise, and trips to Las Vegas? Yes. Is your electronic gradebook linked to the Internet? Yes. Do you feel better about your work with us? Yes. Are you standing up straighter? Yes. Do you like how your body looks? Yes. Do students like how your body looks? Yes. Are you having fewer problems with discipline during instructional time? Yes. Is the classroom workplace more quiet overall? Yes. Do you feel safer now? Yes. Are you eating more organic foods? Yes. Are you having more sex with your spouse? Yes. Do you experience orgasm? Yes. Do you feel less guilty enjoying yourself? Yes. Do you feel like part of an instructional family? Yes. Do you report all glitches in the software? Yes. Have you had glitches to report? No. Do you find yourself daydreaming or losing focus? No. Do you ever wish to be somewhere else? No. Do you regret your choice of profession? No. Do you find yourself more or less frustrated with students? Less. Do you find yourself drinking more or less caffeine each day? Less. Do you need tranquilizers to sleep anymore? No. Are you taking depression meds? No. Do parents challenge your authority? No. Do you experience moments of inferiority? No. Do you want anything else from your career? No. For your students? No. For your children? No. For the neighbors’ children? No. Do these questions make you feel self-conscious? No. Do you realize that you are a new breed of professional? Yes. Do you understand the social and economic contribution you are making every day? Yes. Would you describe yourself as satisfied, dissatisfied, or other? Yes. Do you have any questions? — Do you have questions? — Any? — Do you? —