Last November I did an author presentation at an inner city public school. I was unprepared for what I saw. The arrangement was made earlier in the spring when I met the program coordinator for the school at a STEM workshop that I conducted at a children’s museum. She was impressed with the way I engaged the children and invited me to present at her school for American Education week. We worked out everything beforehand. I waived the speaker’s fee if I was guaranteed a certain amount of sales in books. There was the order. All was set.
When I arrived at the school, the first thing I noticed was the dilapidated infrastructure of the school and the surrounding neighborhood, a clear sign that it was a low income area. There was no one to greet me at the office. The coordinator was at a meeting off campus and the principal wasn't in as yet. There was no assembly of kids as I’d grown accustomed to at other school presentations. Instead I had to go to the different classes, dragging my games and paraphernalia to present to the children. I was not escorted to the classes, but had to find my way to each class (it’s a huge school) lugging around heavy boxes. Worst yet, there was a miscommunication about the classes, so one class I went to the students were at lunch.
I noticed the teachers were not only unprepared for me, but they were unprepared for their own classes. First off, they weren’t informed that they were having a speaker. The first class I went to, the students, equipped with tablets, were playing games while the teacher on her phone used social media. There was absolutely no class control, and my introduction was, “This lady is here to talk to you,” before she stepped out of the room.
Assuming I was a substitute teacher, a kid promptly threw a paper at me. Of course the teacher in me kicked in. I picked it up, smiled, and read a lovely love letter from it. Poor student turned red. Of course the paper was blank, but the rest of the class didn’t know that. That got their attention and after that I had a pretty engaging interactive author talk.
The next class was also unprepared for me, but the teacher graciously worked with what she could in the way of an introduction. Quite a fulfilling experience as the students were engaged.
The last class I went to was chaos, total chaos. The teacher was screaming at the top of her lungs to call them inside. An teacher's aid in the class was surfing the internet on a computer. He didn’t even bother to look up or acknowledge me. They kids were like chickens without a head, running here and there while the teacher screamed for them to settle down. I noticed immediately the reading level of this class was not up to standard, so omitted the “talk” took out my model of the cell and asked them to guess what it is. Their attention had, I then proceeded to do an entertaining activity with them that tied into the book. Yes they settled down without me having to shout at them. Yes I engaged them. Yes they were asking to stay longer. And yes, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
Finally, the day was done. I was shocked at what I experienced, but having taught K-12 for some time, I knew how to handle myself. I went back to the principal’s office to settle on the order of books. The principal of course took the books that she ordered before saying, “Oops, the lady who signs the checks is not here today and she has the only key to the drawer with the checkbook.” She assured me she would send the check by mail.
A month later, not having received the check, I emailed both the principal and the coordinator. No response. To this day I haven’t seen the check. I haven't received one letter or email thanking me coming. Knowing it’s an underfunded school district, I’m torn between pushing for the money owed to me, and counting it as charity. But even underfunded, the reception could have, and should have been better.
What do you think? Should I demand the money for my books, or should I write it off as a charitable donation?