Saturday, February 05, 2005

parenthetical me

Thursday I woke up with a headache. After going round and round with myself, I finally called in to school sick. While I was taking a bath I kept trying to imagine standing at my classroom door, feeling puny and less than a hundred percent, the bell for first period ringing, and me attempting to tame the surge of circling, Mardi Gras-crazed adolescents. In fact, I couldn't imagine it. I don't think it's possible to go in as a teacher at my school feeling less than a hundred percent. It seemed weak-willed of me until I had the revelation that at my school there is never a normal day or a day without some kind of drama. Teaching here calls for every shred of ability and strength musterable, and for us to be prepared for the unexpected at all times. And for us to be prepared to handle the unimaginable. (The realm of the unimaginable is getting smaller. Theoretically I think that's a good thing, because what can be wrong with facing what is real? On the other hand, realizing that there are those kinds of things in the world is disheartening because I sometimes now wonder if I'm wrong in thinking that all children are salvageable, that their few years on Earth cannot possibly have damaged them forever, that no matter who or what, they can rise. Someone recently brought up the possibility that children who are their family's third generation to be born in poverty, often to young mothers who don't fathom that what they do and ingest while they're pregnant will affect a life, children who are raised in dangerous neighborhoods mostly without fathers, that these children begin life with a deficit that they may perhaps never be able to overcome, that their development is stifled from their pre-natal time and that a certain weakness or inability or disability is almost written in stone. I don't want to believe that. I have to and I do believe these children begin life on less than equal footing with most of us Americans [how can there be such poverty in the midst of such affluence? MLK raised that question], but that they're capable of herculean efforts. And that's EXACTLY why I want to be a teacher here - to teach them about Hercules.)
That was a tangent that got me to a truth about who I am. Writing blows my mind!
Where was I? Oh yes, the headache. So I knew I couldn't be Hercules myself Thursday and I stayed home. Yesterday a kid came to see if I was okay because she was so shocked that I'd been absent. That's a damned shame that a kid should be shocked that a teacher is almost always in class. But that's another story (we recently had a spate of days where on the average, 17 teachers were absent in one day). But that's another story (which I have to muster up the courage to tell soon). Soon. Anyway, so I found out that what I missed on Thursday was that several girls, all my students, jumped another girl, a former student, and the jumpee sprayed them with Mace. All but the macer got expelled. They're all girls I've written about in this blog, every one of them. In fact, we got a list yesterday of all the expelled students in school and seven of the ones on the list are or were my students. Also on Thursday a boy and a girl came to blows in my second period class, but apparently got separated before the authorities had to be involved. See, imagine if I had been there? On a hundred percent day the altercation in my second period wouldn't have materialized because one of the things we teachers do is stay on top of things all the time, almost smelling out potential trouble. That's one of the things that people don't know about teachers, how much of ourselves has to stay engaged every second we're with our students. (That's why it makes me crazy when people make light of teachers and give us a hard time, even in jest, about all the holidays we get. I know I speak for every teacher I know when I say that we couldn't function without the times to turn off and catch up with ourselves. And now that I'm on this tangent, saying off the top of my head, there's probably no amount of money that could entice people who are not willing to give themselves over like that. That's probably why teachers make a, relatively speaking, low salary. Am I crazy for saying that money is kind of an afterthought?)
So I didn't go to school on Thursday. That's the second day this year I've taken off. I'd begun the year COMMITTED to not taking a single day off, but I've backed off a little, now that I understand this hundred percent thing. It's an intense school in an already intense profession. Every so often, I guess we need a headache which makes having a headache, ironically, a blessing.
Enough for now.



Blogger Clay said...

", there's probably no amount of money that could entice people who are not willing to give themselves over like that. That's probably why teachers make a, relatively speaking, low salary. "

Certain truth to that, although I accept the prevailing opinion that teaching was the only thing open to women 100 years ago and it was easy to think "we can pay them less b/c they're women, not supporting a family, yadda yadda".

The profession has neve recovered.

"And for us to be prepared to handle the unimaginable. (The realm of the unimaginable is getting smaller"


8:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your new semester reinforces for me the fight against the 4 x 4 block schedule. We need these students longer than just four months. It takes four months to mesh and get comfortable with teaching and learning styles. Just when you get them to trust you and open up, you have to give them away. Then, you start all over. It's very disheartening.

You are a blessing! You are changing lives, and I admire you for that.

Mary Beth

8:31 AM  

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