In which I inspire

This was a really fucking rough day. I got through my third and fourth hour basically by deciding that I was blind on the left side of my body. I have been keeping track of the swear words I hear for the last few days, and I’m averaging around fifty a day, and generally half of those or so will be the N-word. It’s still not impossible that I end up back in a classroom again next year, but it’s getting less and less likely with every passing day. I’m just completely exhausted with all of them at this point, and I don’t want to do this any longer. If that means I need to ignore fully half of one of my classes so that I can concentrate on the group of them who still have a modicum of interest in receiving an education, well, fuck it, that’s what I’m going to do, and I’m well beyond feeling bad about it.

And then as I was walking out of the building, our social studies teacher stopped me and asked me how one of our … more troublesome students had done in my room today, and by “troublesome,” I mean “has 74 office referrals so far this year, and is somehow still allowed to be attending school despite having not the slightest shred of an academic agenda.” I thought about it for a moment and realized that not only had I not had to put him out– I’d had to speak to him a couple of times, but not especially seriously– and that he’d actually turned in his work, which given his current 11% class average (and that’s his third-highest grade) is not a common occurence.

She has a student teacher this semester– and, God, of all the years to be student teaching, you couldn’t have chosen a worse one than this one– and he’d had to put this kid out of class himself today, and he was having a really hard time with it. Ed school fills your head with all sorts of nonsense about how it’s always the teacher’s fault if you can’t “reach” any of your students, and the notion that for one reason or another certain students might be unreachable is simply treated as heresy. I don’t even know this guy all that well and I could tell he was beating himself up over it.

And fuck me dead if I didn’t spend the next fifteen minutes talking this poor guy off of a ledge and trying to make him feel better about himself and his future as a teacher. He was always going to have a hard time with middle school– he’s got a prominent lisp among a couple of other, uh, prominent physical characteristics– and he was one of those guys where it’s difficult for one’s first impression to not be “the kids are going to eat you alive.” But he’s putting in the work and he’s doing his Goddamned best and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a kid who easily ranks in the bottom five percent of students I’ve taught in my career fuck up this guy’s day. And I think by the time I left I had him feeling better, and on the one hand, yay me, and on the other hand I really don’t think anyone should be going into teaching until we have a serious societal reckoning with what we actually want our teachers to be and what we want from our schools, and that reckoning needs to firmly eliminate the word “babysitter” from our job descriptions. Because that’s what we’re doing with this kid, and with a higher percentage of my students this year than I’ve ever seen before. These kids have no interest and no business being in school other than fucking up the educations of the kids who want to be there, and any vestiges of patience I might have ever had with it are simply gone at this point. A completely honest accounting would have involved telling this guy that things weren’t going to get better because in the last twenty years nothing has ever gotten better in education. That trend isn’t reversing anytime soon.

But hey, I got him off the ledge. And if I go to work tomorrow, it’ll be five days in a row. Baby steps, I guess.

In which I tell a brief, unpleasant story

I’m pretty sure I have never told anyone this story before– not in print, not in person, it’s not in Searching for Malumba, nothing– and I’m also not exactly sure what chain of thought brought it to mind as I was taking a post-pool shower and shaving my head just now, but now that it’s there I’m gonna talk about it.

It is 2005, and I am either on my last day of student teaching or it is the last day before Spring Break; I don’t remember which. I have three years of actual teaching experience, but I spent them at a Catholic school because I wasn’t certified, and completing my MA and getting my certification means I need to student teach anyway. I have ended up at a massively overcrowded (45+ students in several classes) K-8, primarily Puerto Rican, Spanish-speaking school on Chicago’s north side. I am teaching Language Arts and I have 6th through 8th graders.

My mentor teacher, a woman (this is relevant) tells me we need to talk about something before I go, and something about her tone immediately alarms me. She hands me a folded note. I open it and note that about half of the paper has been cut off, possibly to preserve a handful of student signatures. I am teaching LA in this building, however, so this doesn’t do a ton of good as I recognize the handwriting and I know who the young lady in question’s friends are.

The note says that I have been staring at her and her friends’ butts, and that none of them feel safe around me.

I note that there is a date on the note. It is about exactly two weeks old.

Chances are I paled a bit. This is bad. This is real bad. For a bunch of perfectly obvious reasons, plus the one where if I fail student teaching I’ve basically wasted the large amount of money I’ve borrowed to pay for this degree.

I look up at my mentor teacher, about to start strenuously denying some shit.

“It’s not true,” she says before I can get a word out. “I’ve been watching you for two weeks. You aren’t doing that.” I think about it for a moment, and I also realize that I’ve had this specific girl as well as all of her friends in small group instruction several times since this must have been written, with no inexplicable drama occurring. My mentor teacher has set the groups.

My mentor teacher goes on to explain that she’s not told anyone about the note, and that she wouldn’t have unless she witnessed some sort of untoward behavior herself on my part, so the two of us are the only adults who know about it. She says it’s a product of– and I will never forget hearing her say this– “these kids’ fucked-up lives, and their fucked-up problems,” and that she wanted me to know about it but that I shouldn’t spend any time worrying about it.

(Thinking about it, this must have happened before Spring Break, because I feel like she said “spend your Spring Break” worrying about it.)

And now, fifteen years later, this story pops back into my head, and as I’m thinking about it, I’m trying to decide how I might have handled it, if I were in the same position she was in, and whether I think she did the right thing by not sharing the note with anyone and just observing me herself. I mean, I wasn’t under her direct supervision every time I was with kids; that’s not how student teaching works. It’s conceivable that I might have been saving my creepery for when there weren’t other adults around, yes?

(To be perfectly clear, I wasn’t. But still. She didn’t know me that well.)

I genuinely do not know– I don’t think she told me, as opposed to this being something I’ve forgotten– whether she had a sit-down with whoever signed the note or not. The situation, again, appears to have been forgotten about as soon as the note was written, because surely I’d have heard about it faster if they had kept complaining.

What do y’all think? What’s the move here?