Sunday, June 13, 2010

Hope Springs Eternal

There are certain jobs that I think everybody ought to do once in their lives. I think everyone should give at least a week of their lives waiting tables. I think people should give any janitorial endeavor a try. And I think everyone, at some point, should stand in front of a classroom ready with an activity or lesson for whatever skill they’d like to teach and manage about 35 middle schoolers. Get them to buy in to what you’re selling. Have them master some state standard and understand why it’s so critical for them to do so. Laugh off the smart aleck remarks and retort with something witty that will instantly win over the most reluctant learners. Differentiate your instruction (doesn’t THAT sound fancy?) to reach every child, no matter what level they’re at and have a smile on your face and a song in your heart the entire time.

After all, it’s what we do—unless you happen to catch us in a human moment, threatening to take some little monster by the ankles and throw him into a fan.

It happens. I’m not gonna lie.

So, I’ve decided to teach summer school this year. I’ve never done it before. Not sure I’ll do it again. It’s not that I don’t love my kids. Most of them are wonderful—very delayed and very low performing—but largely delightful. Patience is never a problem. They struggle. That’s why most of them are there. Most of them.

Then there are the ones who just need a spanking.

Or, maybe their lives are so broken—so fragmented—that all they know is successful failure. They’ve learned to sabotage their own lives. It’s heart wrenching on several levels. It seems that no amount of sugar, coercing, or reiterating the precarious reality of their situation will convince them to put forth any amount of effort or to prevent them from being flat out incorrigible since all they know of power is simply to demolish.

I have a select group of gentlemen, and I say that word VERY loosely, who seem to be of the persuasion that being the biggest dicks they can be is what makes them men. I say, whatever assholes are teaching them to BE men are doing a pretty shitty job. I operate from a place of compassion and hope; yet, those qualities are cruel jokes to these guys who repel love like it is the plague. Maybe it is for them. Maybe, most likely—OK, I’d be willing to bet the BANK on the fact that the people who were in charge of loving them have irreparably hurt them. So, for me to stand up in front of the class and declare my love and concern for them is summarily and understandably rejected. In fact, I can shove all that warm-fuzzy crap straight up my ass as far as they're concerned. They've made that much crystal clear. And don’t even talk to them about hope. That’s the cruelest joke of all. They have no hope.

I think: OK. Fine. Let’s just get through this. It’s not like we have to cuddle. Just do what you’re supposed to do so you can go on to high school. Surely, you’re not so smitten with these uniforms we make you wear every day that you want to hang out and wear them for another shot at eighth grade while the rest of your friends go to high school, right?

Uhhhhh… No. That won’t be happening.

Their apparent response: Your plan is not my plan. I’m not doing anything except for screwing up my life as fast as I possibly can. All I’ve ever known is pain, and it’s what is now comfortable for me. It’s what is familiar. It’s what I know. It’s what I do. So, if I can make the biggest parking lot out of this situation, then that’s what I’m after. You can’t stop me. I’ll show you just how in control of this whole thing I really am. Watch this…

But I do have hope. And I do have compassion for them and the pain they carry on their shoulders. I look to their parents and wonder, “What in the hell are you DOING? What are you NOT doing?” Because I shudder to think what these precious souls have seen—what they’ve been forced to endure at home. The horror stories that we hear on the news are just a “day in the life” of children everywhere.

And then they come to us. And we’re supposed to do what?

Well? I’m not going to relinquish my love, my compassion, and my hope for all children. I don’t just love the “good ones.” I am who I am. These 25 days won’t even put a dent in that. I’m someone who has seen plenty of miracles, and it’s nothing for me to look for them under every rock. I expect them most days because my whole life is just one great big miracle after another. But believe me when I say that this is exhausting to look into the lives of despair and self-hatred that invariably spills out onto everyone else. Every day.

I look at burned out teachers, and I get it. And I pray that never happens to me because it’s an alarmingly thin line between love and exasperation. You can’t even BECOME exasperated unless you have FIRST loved and been VESTED in a worthy effort that means the world to you. It's impossible. I am not so arrogant that I believe for one minute that I could never end up bitter and perfectly able to write off a child like he’s nothing to me. I know teachers who have reached that wretched place, and I think, “There, but for the grace of God, go any one of us…” And I am sobered by that knowledge.

People respond with, “Then those people should get out of teaching.” I don’t necessarily disagree, but it’s easier said than done. You try walking away from your whole life. You try walking away from something you’ve wanted to do forever—before your college loans are even paid off. Don’t be so quick to throw stones or render a solution so monumental as that. I have worked with ineffective teachers and, believe me, no one is more frustrated with them than those of us who consider ourselves effective teachers and who still love children. I hope I would have the courage to walk away from education if/when I am no longer good at what I do and have learned somewhere, somehow to loath getting up in the morning. But there are a lot of components in this scenario. A lot. Everyone has a story.

At the end of all this, I hope I teach some important lessons to all of my kids in this summer session. I also hope to learn what I’m supposed to in these 25 days as well. And perhaps that is how to preserve who I am and what I have to offer anyone who is in a place to receive it.

And, yes, hope DOES spring eternal…