Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Charles Bukowski must've taught middle school in his spare time

"....and I had a father come into my classroom with his belt in his hand," said a teacher friend this evening to me. A teacher friend who is leaving the classroom behind, which is a damned dirty shame because she might be the best teacher I know, with real gifts in hard places and stamina that I cannot muster. But she's also right to leave. I nodded at her and repeated words I've said before:

"That was the day--the day when Lorin's father showed up and asked me how he was in the classroom, and I told him, and he took Lorin out of my room while I stood there watching him leave with his son, beat him in the hallway, and Lorin came back in with a cut on his face, that was the day I became a liar." No matter what happens in my classroom, it's something I handle with that kid at that time.

The kids I teach now? Nobody's going to walk into my classroom with a cut face after a beating in the hallway.

But I still play my cards close with their parents. I'm still a liar.


She's mad but she's magic. There's no lie in her fire.


"Did you think that if we just loved him enough, it would turn out ok?"

Yes, of course I did.

Why else on the earth would anyone ever try?


You begin saving the world by saving one person at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics.


A teacher was on a field trip, which means classes get shifted around. If you were supposed to have her class, then you take the class that she would have had. It is never hard to sub in your own building. You know the kids. And you don't actually have to do any work. My homeroom was supposed to be in her class, but were assigned to another teacher for the hour.

I went over to that room to tease them a little bit before I took my break. To tell them to be sure to be good for her. Of course they would be. They're a good group. I walked in and my kids--these are my kids--are sitting down at the desks and chatting, eating a snack before the quiz they've been assigned by the absent teacher. I scan the room and then see my invisible boy, standing the back facing the wall with his books on a counter.

"What's that?" I ask the teacher.

Shrug. "I don't have enough chairs."

I walk over to him. He's studying for the quiz. "Can I, please let me get you a chair?"

"Thank you," is all he says. All he usually ever says. Thank you for helping me. Thank you.

I go across the hall and get a chair from my room, take it back and put it at a little computer table. He nods at it, picks up his books, and thanks me again. Fleeting eye contact. No expression.

He was going to just stand through that class.

Everyone in that room was going to just let him stand through that class.

That teacher was going to let him stand through that class.

I am sure I offend people 100 times a day. I blunder around and talk sharp sometimes and hell, I teach middle school and that's enough said about that. But my classroom is my domain. And I am going to make sure everyone has a place in it.


We must. We must bring our own light to the darkness. 


I flip through records. I look at pictures, I look for hints. I look at those little kindergarten photos and then the progression through to middle school. Stability does not equal happiness, that's the lesson there. I wouldn't have had more than one or two photos in a permanent record like that. These kids, almost all of them have a full set of K-6 by the time I have their names sorted in my homeroom and it's picture day.

Stability can be smothering, even toxic. Or maybe it's unrelated directly to the outcome. Correlation, not causality. Some kids are resilient. Some are happy. Some are talked about in meetings. Some are never talked about at all.


back off. If there is light, it will find you.


Sitting across from her, a girl who has closed herself to me in her anger and shame, there was nothing I could do.

Except teach her the math.

So that's what we did. Math. The reunion of broken things.

And she, too, thanked me on her way out after her test retake. A different sort of thank you, one said out of perhaps sheepish realization that I wasn't actually out to get her, out to fail her. It felt real, not parroted.

"You're welcome," I answered her. "We'll go over the answers tomorrow. We'll get it sorted."

We parted in the hallway. She was already on her phone, looking for her mom to pick her up. I was headed out the back door to my car--I drive a Ford Escape--to take off the teacher hat and blare the music so loud that my brain cleared.

But my heart really never does.


What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.


"How did you know you wanted to be a teacher?" one of my favorite 8th graders asks me as the snow falls outside the window and the ipads only sort of work how I want them to.

And so I tell the story of the smart girl who changed her mind. "I needed a piece of paper," I sum up, "Something I could hand to a future boss and say, this is what I know how to do."

"Like, a mechanic or something," he connects.

"Yes, like a mechanic. Except with kids. Maybe more like a welder."

They laugh. I watch the snow and think about so many broken things.

1 comment:

  1. Always so much to think about. And this made me smile: "I was headed out the back door to my car--I drive a Ford Escape--" Perfect!