Thursday, November 06, 2008

why I do this

Today was one of those days that wouldn't be obvious to the outside world as a successful day. But I think I planted some seeds that maybe, if I keep tending them, will grow into something real.

The day was chaotic. Kids were yelling-- I was yelling in response-- and everyone kept moving around. Walking in circles. Leaving the room. Going out one door, tapping on the windows, and then back in the other. One kid is working on an independent humanities course, one a science. Both need help. The four who made it in on time needed to go get breakfast first; everyone was hungry all day, including me. Some relationships have changed over the last week, so there was some anger and, later, some reconciliation. That is huge. Massive. Last week I didn't think we'd even get close to resolving things this calendar year. That alone would have made it a good day.

But we also talked about a lot of other things, in between getting work done. Saw a headline in the paper about a car accident and talked about a cousin's accident (drinking and driving) and a few other tragedies. Learned more about the local man who died from cancer this week but donated his body to research. He lived hard, but he treated these kids with respect, and they in return. One person-- even someone who 'wasted his life' according to some-- does make a difference. We all talked about the Articles of Confederation and the Great Compromise, followed by some Algebra. Talked about our work and personal values and how they'll impact future jobs. Decision making again for English class. I learned a little bit more about tracking a deer. Lots happening here. Lots.

Interwoven around it all was the election. Half my class is racist, and not afraid to say so. And so each time they say something, or joke, or let something slip out, I address it. Every time. So by the end of the day, I was asking what they were so afraid of? The immediate reaction was to deny it, but I saw the glimmer of questioning in their eyes in return: what am I afraid of? That was something no one had ever asked before.

People often comment about what I do all day, and how insane it is. I try to explain it, but I really can't. It just makes sense to me. Some days it's hard. Some days it's torture. Some days even I wonder what I think I'm doing, and how I can think, even for a minute, that I can be teaching anyone anything in this chaos. But after a day like today, I understand in my every fiber why I do this, and why I wouldn't succeed in a regular class, although I still can't put it into words. They're rough, vulgar, crude, and insensitive, but if you give them respect they'll eventually give it back. They'll consider your point of view for a split second, even if it's one that has never ever even occurred to them before. And tomorrow it might not seem so crazy.

Yup, we had a good day today. Thank God I wasn't observed, because they would have done their best to sit and be quiet and make me look good-- and we wouldn't have accomplished half as much.


Beth said...

I'm so glad you are there for them, Rach. You have all the right qualities to reach them. Thanks for sharing your day.

hoyden said...

You once told me you wouldn't go back to teaching; you had a whole new career in mind. I remember being aghast (you've ALWAYS wanted to be a teacher).

And because I complain that y'all never let me grow up and change, I realized that my shock at your desire to stop teaching was just me not wanting to let you grow and change.

So let's pretend that this career is new for you (and given that you needed a new credential and took a break in between gigs, that's not so big a stretch). I'm really happy that you have found a place where you fit and can make a positive difference in the world.

Katie : said...

Embracing what you do is good. Not being able to imagine anything else...must mean it's a good fit.

Wendy said...

I had a hard time as a classroom teacher, but years later, one of my students found me (which was quite a feat, as I'd moved several times AND changed my name :), and let me know how positive an effect I had had on her life. It made all of that time and energy and difficulty worth it ;).

It sounds like you do an amazing job.