I took a job in the classroom…teaching English, aka, ELA. 6th grade. The last classroom teaching job I had was twelve years ago. Since then I finished a degree, travelled a lot, taught adults, designed trainings, consulting, curriculum writing, dreaming, raising my two children, failing and succeeding at the small most important things, the large things linger. I’ve been doing what I’ve always done best—hovering over the field of education as if education were one of my ducklings.
Teaching is one of the most difficult, multi-faceted jobs out there. Teachers deserve a hell of a lot of money if they’re doing well at it. Teachers need a lot of support and love…especially if they’re teaching in a school with poverty, learning disabilities, high needs populations—which I would probably say describes most schools in the public/charter sector today; at least in NYC where I am. Where I work.
It’s been a long time since I’ve worked “at home.” My own town. My own crazy kids. Not neighborhood kids really, cause they travel from the other side of the Bronx. But nonetheless, I’m not in another country nor am I on a plane between states. I find myself right here and I walk to school now. I’m localized totally.
I’m three and half minutes away.
Macro to micro in a flash.
Much has changed. I’ve got a smart board.
Much has stayed the same.
I’m good at it, this teaching thing, no matter what the age. Kids need lots and lots of love—the kind of love that is swaddled in high expectations, structure and clarity. The kind of love that picks up the details of progress, the nuance of relationships, the steady beat and pulse of a child growing. Put a ruler up next to a plant and watch how slow it grows, but it does grow with exactly the right amount of sun and water and potting. How easy it is to kill its flowers, yellow the leaves or dry them out. How painfully monotonous it all is, the everyday task of making lessons real, trying to sell the miracle of reading to a bunch of rowdy kids who shake and shiver with meds or with nerve endings busted, never reworked, faulty wiring and years of mixed messages. How to make reading and writing relevant to these hungry souls? Sweat the small stuff. Children live and breathe in the small stuff. It’s their world these fine details— the lives they stuff into small cubbies or push back to the back of the desk, the pencils that disappear day in and day out, the notebook war.
What is my job really?
I have 75 patients. 75 children. 75 students. 75 human beings in my charge. They rumble into my classroom as if my classroom were like a yard.
Pick up the debris and transform it into garden. Every day raking, tilling and planting, pulling out the weeds. Every day, every second, every minute packed, every second you breathe, filling the lungs with air, strong like the Gods and then the wind changes and what?
How do you go from macro to micro? How does one grow old after a lifetime of youth? What is the road from independent to mutuality, from fast to slow, from bigger than life to just life?
Small boy hugs me. Wants to know if I’m staying. Four teachers quit on them in 4 months. I chuckle. No, chortle. (That’s a vocabulary word, btw) It’s as if he knew I had an interview the next day. No one knows except him that I had left the door open. Just in case. Special ed can’t sit still but he knew more than anybody. I tell him, “I’m thinking about it”
“I hope you decide to stay,” he says and I turn away thinking, is this God playing tricks on me?
Eye contact with my autistic student. He’s finally agreed to write in the date every day. He’s made a commitment to be a part of my new community. “They say good things about you,” I tell him. He chants something over and over again but his eyes dart in and out of mine and I know he hears me. “And I believe it’s all true.” I tell him. He knows that for me, it’s just beginning. Kids who can’t take care of a notebook take care of him. They tell me what he does and what I need to watch out for. They protect him and they want me in on their little secret.
They’re welcoming me into their family.
The only time their spirit dies is when I say take out a book and read. Write something. Then they get scared and angry.
How do I get them to love reading when it’s painfully slow and hard in a fast-paced electronic world?
In another class I talk on and on with pause and purpose and a child says I speak like poetry, like Dr. Martin Luther King. Then I feel encouraged.
They hear me.
Month 1; Day 20 and counting.