Thursday, January 5, 2017

Doing Time

It's not a competition. They don't care if you're angry at them. I'm not here to win against a group of 14 year old boys who have deep contempt for me right now.

It's really frustrating.

When I started back to work, my last experiences with teaching had been in an urban middle school classroom where I had started teaching barely able to contain my terror. What if I couldn't control the boys? What if they walked all over me and walked out of the room? What if they burned things in my classroom or hurt each other or stole from me or worse? I felt like an idiot walking in those first few days.

And then I realized that really, all they wanted was to have class down in the basement in the air conditioning.

And then we were friends. It was always a little tense for me that first year, but the second? The incoming 8th grade class was one of those Camelot classes. Just so right, how they meshed together and enjoyed being together.

I walked away from the classroom to raise my children. But I went back a few years ago and found myself in front of an 8th grade class of, essentially, men. Were 8th graders this large and hairy back when I'd taught before? It seemed so improbable.

They immediately fell for me.

It was such a good feeling to find myself back in the classroom and (for the most part) well-liked by my students. I always hold their opinions higher than my colleagues'. If I am preparing them for the next year of math and they still like me, I win.

That year and especially the following year, the 8th grade boys were my favorites. And I was theirs. We shared a space and time together, fleeting and everyday, but important. Important for some of them, surely, and I found it becoming important to me. Not that my ego rested on the shoulders of teenaged opinions, but knowing that I could walk into the classroom and we could enjoy each other together and do our jobs, it made the crushing parts of the job (low pay, lower respect from other adults, some ridiculous coworkers, some even more ridiculous adults) seem so small.

The next year I fell in love with my homeroom.

Each year I fall in love.

This year I'm still in love with the students who had been my homeroom last year. One mom told me that at the end of last year, her son went home and went up to his bedroom and cried in his bed. Because even though I would be his math teacher, it would never be the same again. I was the first teacher he felt loved him, saw him, and it was over.

And he's right and he's wrong. It won't ever be the same. But just like when my pastor left for another parish and we had the opportunity to be better friends, those former homeroom lambs grow into stronger relationships when they don't have to lean on me so hard.

But my current homeroom? I like them. But it's not love, not like years past.

And the current 8th grade?

I don't even want to talk about it. Seriously.

I feel like a contract has been broken. And I feel like an idiot feeling that way. Because I'm the math teacher and they are students. There's no contract. Stop it.

But there is. When it works, you can hear the harmony as you walk past my door. I'm here to teach and you are here to learn and it's math and nobody really likes it that much except maybe Rachel or Vince but really, they'd rather be somewhere else as well, and we have 45 minutes 5 days a week to let the light in through the cracks in our bits of humanity together and I can be angry and then let it go and I can apologize and disarm you because adults don't apologize and then I can tell you a story about that little girl with pickles in her pockets or the terrible nurse at my first school or that field trip with the drug dealers or that time when I moved to Dallas Houston Columbia Georgia California and that friend and another friend said and did those things and when my aunt died or I stood at the top of Mt. Cammerer and then we can get back to polynomials or vertical angles and then maybe I'll bring in my fencing gear or my recurve bow or I'll show you that video where the older cat talks to the new kitten or the dinosaur pets the cat or that girl with too many words writes letters to Spongebob and we can laugh or marvel at it and look, the snow, look at the snow.

I tried. I kept trying to get them to dance with me. The steps are easy. You can follow along. Just like a ballerina, step lightly, crowd will catch you, come on try it. 

They won't play ball. They won't dance. They won't even learn unless there's a grade at the end, a box checked and wrapped up and put away in a gradebook shelf next to all the other meaningless numbers.

They sit there in silence when former students come to visit and hug me and tell me about their current lives, their lives outside the classroom, inside other teachers' classrooms. The 8th graders must wonder what these visitors see in me. Why they would ever visit my classroom when they weren't assigned to me any longer. I have felt this contempt again and again for instructors, for educators, for professors.

Not for teachers though.

If I could go back and see Mrs. Chott or Br. Stephen or so many others, I would in a heartbeat. And I would say things like those former students say to my current students: you will miss her when she isn't in front of this classroom.

Oh baby.

Thing is, they won't.

Somehow we have passed each other by. We don't belong to each other. We are just doing time.

And it's heartbreaking.


  1. I'm sorry for all of you that you're going through this.

  2. I'm heartbroken too. This is so not what usually happens with you.