I always say that my years spent teaching public school--will always be some of the best years I ever lived. No matter if I one day nab a condo in the Gold Coast or travel the world or marry Jeremy Irons. My teaching years will forever be near the top of my list.
I taught in Whittier, California--which is known for John Greenleaf Whittier. The Quakers. Richard Nixon. And which has pockets of ghetto-ness, where students eat predominantly free lunches and go home to predominantly single-parent homes. Where a kid's parent might not be at work--but in prison--thus making his Grandma an unwitting "Mom" all over again.
As every new school year rolls around, I can't help but to feel some camaraderie. I know the battles that will be fought in the classroom. I know that many teachers hope on a daily basis-- that whatever they've toiled so hard to achieve from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.-- will not be automatically undone by the child's environment as soon as the child returns home. It's that perpetual conundrum. Fighting the Cycle. Hoping you'll actually live the cliché and Make a Difference.
For students like Michael G, who was a student in my 2nd grade class. Almost-shaved head. Earring. Scowl on his face. 7 years old...going on 40. Mom in prison. Grandma raising him and his sister.
Or Leonard (whose story I've shared before), who was in my 3rd grade class. A group which my principal called, "The most hardcore 3rd graders I've ever seen." Leonard was being extremely disruptive one day (as usual), so I disallowed his participation in our classroom party. I sent him outside. The rest of us partook of the treats which we'd brought. Soda, chips, and the like. An instructional aide named Ms. Mendez came in at one point and said to me, "I thought you should know that as I walked by your classroom, Leonard said to me, 'Tell my teacher that if she doesn't give me back my chips, I'm gonna shoot her.'"
Or Maricela, whose mother, I kid you not, had 10 children from 10 different fathers. Maricela who had come to me as a 3rd grader not even knowing all the letters of the alphabet--but by the end of the year, was reading. Thanks to my classroom aide and me.
It's staring at 30 little faces and wondering if they ate any breakfast, let alone asking them to tell you that 7 x 7 = 49 or that Ramona Quimby's sister is named Beezus.
Getting back to Michael G. with the shaved head and the earring:
He'd barely utter a word to me throughout the day. The most I ever heard his voice was when I forced him to read for me during an assessment.
Then one day I visited our school district's Teacher Resource Center, a few miles away from school. Michael's aunt happened to be the clerk there. As I checked out, she said to me some of the most precious words I know I'll ever hear.
"Michael just loves you. He comes home from school and you're all he talks about."
I was dumbfounded. She recounted to me stories that he had recounted--of how much I loved Chicago and how he hoped to visit one day. She went on and on.
I just about lost it. And in an instant, I was re-inspired. To head back the next day and keep toiling for this little guy--and all of his comrades.
So, to all of you teachers out there who are scrubbing desks and writing out name tags and stocking the #2 pencils--Happy New Year!
And when you wonder if you're truly reaching your Michael G's--remember that you ARE--and that they're listening intently to every word...
I'm not in a classroom at the moment, but my current educational venture, Archie Architecture, will likely get me back there soon.
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