Well! I just got done pouring out my thoughts to my good friend, Warren. I thought I'd post this e-mail in its entirety. Just processing here...
Hey buddy! So sorry I bailed last night. I didn't even get HOME until 5:30! The whole day was just one big fuster-cluck. I'm working on what to do with my brain when parents are complete idiots and they have so neglected to parent their children that their children are now totally out of control, traveling down the wrong road as fast as they can possibly get absolutely nowhere. They come to school and suddenly get hit with expectations to be respectful and cooperative enough to get something out of this free education they are offered by people who sacrifice a great deal to provide it for them and what happens? They get bent that someone has stood up to that little sense of entitlement of theirs and go home with accusations that we have mishandled the situation somehow. Instead of giving us one SHRED of confidence, instead of taking pause to ponder whether or not their children are representing us even REMOTELY as we truly are, they come down to the school and demand explanations of us as to why we handled their child the way we did. Most of the time, the child has left out gaping amounts of pertinent information, skewing the whole scenario favorably for themselves. But sometimes, as was the case last night, the child has completely fabricated some ridiculous notion right out of his ass. I can't tell you how often this happens! You can almost BET on the progression: kid won't do what he's asked, parents are called, cooperation seems forthcoming, kid gets home, kid tells lies or partial truths, parents come down to call YOU to the carpet. I want off this merry-go-round. Don't get me wrong. I want to teach. God has lead me back to this profession. I don't doubt that. But I want to pull myself out of that particular cycle and don't know how. Maybe I should just chalk it up to the job and learn to expect it. I try to thicken my skin, but my mind just obsesses over each and every incident like this for at least 24 hours. I keep replaying it over and over in my mind because I'm just so devastated by the injustice of it all. Why do parents rush right in, locked and loaded? When does someone give me the slightest benefit of the doubt? When is someone going to have the foresight to think, "Hmmm? Has my child ever lied to me to get out of trouble before? Could he be lying now? MAYHAPS I should reserve judgement and get the whole story before I act rashly?" But it seems like parents who process in that way have kids who rarely get in trouble! Go figure.
Many of my kids live in wonderful homes with parents who have parented well, who have made good choices for their lives and take responsibility for the little lives they've brought into this world. Many of my kids live in absolute squalor, but their parents still love them and do not neglect their children's needs. It's not about whether you grow up in a 2500 square foot house or a broken down single-wide. It's not about how much your parents have, but how much your parents give from themselves. Sure, I sacrifice plenty to do what I do. I pour my life into these children. And many parents do the same and make great personal sacrifices to see that their children have a great childhood, even if it is without all the amenities. But it just seems like there is a certain section of parents who have taught their children to blame everyone else but themselves for their circumstances and situations in life. They've taught their children by the example of their every day lives. These are the parents who come in and make it OUR fault that their children act the way they do. You know what combats that mentality? Ironically, it's education. Perhaps I am the enemy? In attempting to provide an education for their children, I innately challenge their ability to remain victims?
Well, that's all well and good. Glad we figured that out. Now how do I remain unaffected? How do I protect my own psyche and my own spirit? Because I'll tell you something, Warren, it crushes my spirit every single fucking time I have to go through this shit. And I have to take responsibility for that. I can't afford to keep an "Emotional Emergency Pack" on hand at all times. I would definitely have a bottle of Reisling, a coupon for an hour-long, full-body massage AND a pedicure (for which I'd have to make an appointment anyway! I'm not like the parents who come in demanding to see me right this very second--I have the capacity to understand that the world doesn't revolve around me, and I MIGHT just need to wait for an opening!) I would have some Jim Carrey or Chris Rock DVD in there to make me laugh. I think it occurred to me for the first time last night why people smoke pot.
I left teaching because I was in a very dark place. I don't want to go back to that place. And I don't want to become one of those teachers who commiserates with any other Negative Nelly who is stuck in a job she hates and doesn't even like children anymore, counting the days and hours and minutes until she is able to break free from the oppression and retire. I have seen those teachers and judged them. Today I wonder if, at one time, they were as passionate for children as I am. I wonder if, at one time, they willing sacrificed and gave of themselves without question the way I do now. I wonder if they just ran out of themselves to give anymore.
I wonder if, someday, that will be me.
I believe that one of the keys of happiness and success is gratitude. We've talked about this before. To be grateful is powerful. I believe it defends a person from many of the great ills of the human condition. And I am grateful. I'm grateful to be teaching again. I'm grateful for every eager face that is ready to learn. One strategy that teachers, many teachers, have used is to simply give to those students willing to receive what is offered and not going out of their way to reach the more reluctant children. Today, that is as tempting to me as sucking down an illegal substance for a few moments of frustration free happy time. I'm not sure I'm willing to do either one. But I know that I have to change the way I internalize this phenomena of education because these situations are not going to go away. Period. I can't break that fact. And I can't continue to break myself against that fact.
When I worked in Vegas with hard-to-reach kids, I experienced great success. Obviously, I didn't reach every child, but I affected many, many lives and gave them hope. I have story after story after story of how some of my toughest kids were able to turn their lives in a more positive direction. And you know what I had there that I don't here? Free reign. I had free reign to say what I needed to SAY to kids without mincing words because I had parents who trusted that I was the teacher and knew what I was doing and wouldn't dream of harming their children in a million years. There was trust. There was freedom. Sure, occasional misunderstandings would pop up and have to be dealt with, but there certainly was no pattern of accusations against teachers. I do not have that here. I miss that.
But, this is my situation. The past is the past. I can't go back, so why ponder?
John Steinbeck's theme of "THOU MAYEST" in his book, "East of Eden" offers my best strategy, I think. I just need to go into work every day and be excellent and compassionate. I will offer my efforts freely every day to every child regardless of anything that happened yesterday. Will every child receive it? They MAY, or they MAY NOT. I have to relinquish some of these control issues. I can't control any other human being save myself, and I can't crack every nut. That has to be OK with me at some point, out of sheer self-preservation. If I don't work to preserve my own spirit, my own heart and mind, my own emotional well-being, then my students CAN NOT receive what they need. I don't offer my children an education. I offer them the opportunity for an education. Most want it, and they understand they need it, so they are willing to work for it. Will it be enough for me that I've done my due diligence? Or will the ones who don't want the opportunity or who are so immersed in their own unhealth or the unhealth that has been handed down to them continue to haunt me for the rest of my life? Because that will suck the life out of me, Warren. I have to be present and engaged when I come home to my own family. Why should my loved ones have to pick up the tab for the seeming hopelessness that smacks me in the face every day? How do social workers cope? How do police officers cope? How do teachers cope? We are too often faced with the depravity and ignorance of humankind.
But teachers also get to share in joys that would bring the greatest cynic to tears. I've been cynical for too long. Warren, I just feel like I have to pour into those willing children more. I don't want to prioritize with CHILDREN, for God's sake, but I don't know how else to change my perspective! Maybe I should just admit that without the strategies available to me that were effective in Vegas, I don't know what to do with the kids who will not listen, will not comply, and will prevent others from learning so they can be in the Cool Kids Club. I need to protect my eager learners from those who would rob them of being able to live up to their potential. Am I giving up on the ones who need my help the most? Maybe I am. And maybe I'm doing it because I'm just spent. I'm over it. I don't know what to do. And this doesn't even begin to answer the question of what to do with their angry parents when I send these kids out of my class. How do I stop the tape-recorder in my head? I'm not sure that, "Fuck you and the horse you rode in on," is the most healthy of ways to distance myself from the situation. Maybe you have some suggestions?
Lord, how long is this post? I've poured out my heart, and there's still so much to say. Anyway, all that to say, I'm sorry I couldn't meet up with you guys last night.
I do love you.