Thursday, August 19, 2010

What The Cameras See

We have security cameras in our school.

They're cleverly hidden behind smoky black domes mounted to the ceiling in various corners of the building.  There are no red blinking lights. They do not turn and follow our every move, focusing in on a suspected bathroom vandal or a pretty intern.

They simply record the seemingly mundane events of the school day. A replay at fast speed would show the same thing every twenty-four hours: Custodians arrive. Lights flick on. Empty halls remain undisturbed except for the early arrival of the work-aholic teachers and the childless ones. Early student drop-offs trickle in. Then more. And more. Finally the lobby is packed- a jar full of collected bugs, squirming and bouncing into the glass. Some resigned to their captivity and some looking longingly outside, thinking of a way home.

The bell rings and students run through the halls. Lockers are opening and shutting at an alarming speed. The camera keeps recording.. There are super-speed high fives and hugs, shoulder pushes and hip bumps. Heads are bobbing up and down, thrown back in laughter or tucked chin-to-chest in hopes of not being seen. The hallways clog up like the interstate at rush-hour, then the crowd dissipates as quickly as it appeared. Left are the two or three students struggling with their combination locks. One has given up and taps his head over and over on the blue metal door of his locker, trying to remember that boys don't cry. And the camera keep recording.

Every ninety minutes, the same hallway scene is repeated. And at 3:12 the whole thing happens in reverse.

On the rarest of occasions, the cameras record something other than this.  A young man broke into the school and vandalized a classroom. The cameras calmly watched it happen, and gave a play-by-play hours later when the first custodian arrived. It's no surprise that the vandal was apprehended shortly thereafter.  This is why we have security cameras.

A teacher made his way in the building one morning, and took an impressive spill. Played over and over on a loop, both forwards and backwards, this made for a very entertaining piece of video to view. Which we all did. Multiple times. This is also why we have security cameras.

I must say, this type of mass-humiliation has only happened once, and it was with the consent of the video's subject. This was a man with a strong sense of self-esteem.

Yesterday, as I was in the otherwise empty hallway with a co-worker, demonstrating how my dog does what I call the "boot scoot" across the floor, I was suddenly and painfully aware of the little black dome above and slightly behind me. While I was not personally boot-scooting across the hallway's blue carpet, I did contort myself in such a way (back hunched over, butt tucked in) before what would amount to be a series of grotesque pelvic thrusts meant to mimic that of a dog dragging its exposed rump across a scratchy surface.

I froze, mid-scoot, and imagined my own personal video loop spreading across the internet like wild-fire. I had the sudden urge to drop to the ground and army-crawl my way into my classroom undetected.

This is not the first time I've felt this way.

I surely can't be the only teacher in the building who, upon thinking she's finally found some privacy away from a classroom of students, reaches back to adjust her bunched-up underwear with an elastic SNAP! only to remember the cameras mounted above.

Or absent-mindedly reaches up to dislodge that flaky booger that had been bothering her all morning, when, Why, hello there, camera....while the finger is one-knuckle deep in the right nostril.

My sudden awareness of the camera in our team area has cut the following actions short, but not stopped them from occurring altogether: folding my arms under my armpits and dancing around the table like a chicken, checking my armpits in general, verifying that I'm too big to fit into a locker, working my way through decades of dancing styles (charleston, waltz, stroll, mash-potato, disco steps, the running man, the jerk), flicking a teammate off to his/her face, flicking a teammate off behind his/her back, demonstrating how to make a snow angel, flicking hamster poop onto the carpet, showing a co-worker a mouth full of my chewed food, and popping an arm zit.

I imagine if someone were so inclined, a madcap and zany Benny Hill-like production of antics could be assembled from the hours and hours of teacher footage alone. (Minus the scantily-clad ladies being chased by creepy, pasty old men. At least I hope that's nowhere to be found in our archives.) It must be out of the sheer lack of time or sheer respect for each other that no such clips exist.

Next time I freeze mid undie-pull, look up with a stunned and slightly embarrassed expression at the smoky dome, I'll remember the hours and hours of footage of me working one-on-one with kids in that same hallway, not giving up. I'll remember that the same camera which sees me boot-scoot also captures the way I greet every single kid in the morning with genuine excitement and care. It sees me bend down next to that lone kid in the hallway trying to figure out his locker combination or eating lunch with the kids who's having a hard day. The camera watches as an old student comes back to visit and this time my embarrassment is due to my tears, which surprise even me.

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