Monday, November 16, 2015

Thoughts on the upcoming year of mercy, on a very very micro level because I cannot do all things but I can do one thing. Very well.

Been ruminating. My silence lately has to do with some thinking I've been working through.

My little guy, my sad little guy with parents who feel like lies? Then this happened. He got sick one day and wound up in the nurse's office. There was an interaction there I won't write here, but the end result is that I referred him to our school's care team, which is a group of administrators and teachers who meet to discuss plans for students who are hurting--in trouble or causing trouble. I used to serve on the care team, and I probably will again.

Since then I've pretty much decided I'm going to be the teacher who notices him for who he is. I realize, now that I made that decision, that he slips past folks easily. He is unseen. It is strange when I talk about him with the lower grade teachers who had him in homeroom. They always assume I'm talking about another boy with the same name, one who is two years ahead of him. When I correct them--and when I say "always assume," I mean 100% of them have reacted thinking I was talking about another boy--they sum it up the same way, as if they got together and decided what to say to me. That he was present in their class but not really present. That he slipped past them.

Imagine slipping past 5 teachers in a row, 5 years of your life and you don't make an impression on anyone, so much so that your name triggers another boy's life in their memory.

He's beautiful. I talk to him about sports sometimes. I asked him for his advice on how to split up groups for a religion project. "Do you think this will work? Can you work ok with the partner I assigned you?" When really I want to ask him other questions.

In the end, at the care team meeting, what I took away is that the best I can do is the best I can do. Be the person he needs me to be. I'm good at that. So good in fact, there's an 8th grade boy who still pulls me aside in the hall to unpack hard parts of his day. I have learned to harness my powers for good.

In the process of becoming the first teacher who wants to know him [which reminds me of my former boss, whom I feel was the first boss who ever wanted to know me as well], I've attracted a lot of other people who want me to see them, too. It's like trying to reach the sad little abused kitten in the corner of the pen while all the outgoing resilient kittens rub up against your leg and paw at your hand for attention.

My school is wealthy. Parents do well for themselves. Children are clean and fed and have several layers of Maslow totally taken care of. No one is eating expired pop-tarts in the counselor's office; no one is taking home a box from the food pantry. And yet these are the most expressively emotionally hungry children I've ever taught (meaning, it is very possible that other years had children with greater needs, but they clearly seek it out here).

And that's ok. I will love all the kittens, even if my friend Trisha tells me I can't hug every cat. No, I can't. But I can love this one.

Trisha then said, when I was talking about this boy, about my kids, that she sees these people when they are adults [she's a physical therapist]. "When all this shit is over with." She paused. "But it still comes up. Touch."

Yeah. It still comes up.

I had a teacher friend one time tell me that teaching was like being a waitress. You get them what they ask for, anticipate their little needs, chat them up a bit, and then wave them out the door. "But you don't let yourself get to know them."

Why the fuck not?

And I think it comes down to the fact that they are children. Adults don't get to know children, beyond their own children. Unless they're creepy, right? Eh. I don't know.

The other night, I was at a book club meeting and we were talking about a banned book. Someone asked why it was banned, and a discussion of the wide and varied reasons why something would be banned began. They came back round to that book, surmising it must be the teenage sex contained within.

"Yeah," I agreed. "Folks usually don't like books that focus on underaged people having sex."

"Underage people," one of the women laughed. She emphasized the people in that statement. Not in a derogatory way. More like it struck her as funny that those two words would go together.

A teacher reminded us at a professional development meeting about how to deal with difficult students. She mentioned that she always remembers there's a mom out there rooting for this kid. She has to remember that. And I thought, "but what if there isn't?" Can't I approach someone, some underage someone, with love and respect simply because of our shared humanity? Perhaps even more so, because we are called to protect the vulnerable?

Who is more vulnerable in my life right now than a skinny 11 year old who has purposefully made himself invisible for years?

So I'm ruminating. And watching. And praying and hoping for all the underage people who come share my home(room) so many hours of the day. May it be a refuge. May I be the person, the teacher, they need.


  1. I'm reading this, and all I can think is, "I love you, Sally!"

    Then I was struck too by your comment that adults don't get to know children, beyond their own children. I've noticed this, both as a child and an adult. i have thoughts about this I may well share elsewhere. I'll send you the link if I do.

  2. I want to read it! I love blog conversations.

  3. I would love to read your link too, Mali, if you send it. There is so much to think about here, Sally. I had this fleeting moment during which I wondered if you should quit teaching and be a therapist, and then I realized you would do so much more good in the world if you DIDN'T do that. These kids, most of whom would never have the power to or want to seek out help, need you right where you are.

  4. PS. I'm wondering if the banned book was the one by the NZ writer? It was temporarily restricted here until a formal censor classification was made (which put it back on library shelves, thank goodness), but I heard the author talking about the book, and he (and it) sounded amazing. He would say things like, "underaged people having sex."

    Here's a link to the podcast I heard:

    I see too you can buy the book on Amazon.

    1. I don't know! I don't recall the name of the book or author, kind of half in the conversation and half flipping through my own books (my book club is more of a "get together and talk about what YOU are reading" club). But when they mentioned the underage sex, that's when I made the comment.