Serendipity strikes again

19 Feb

Thank God for real people. That’s you, and you, and you, the ones I’ve got a chance to see and hear know a little. If I had to go just on ideas, and opinions and the news, I’d be such an intolerable crackpot. Ideas–those I just inspect, dissect, prospect, speculate, synthesize, sympathize, synchronize, synergize, all very analytical and logical and objective, so I feel.

But you, with your eyes that look out, your voice that speaks with a tone, a rhythm, a catch, strong and forceful, low and uncertain, layered over laughter, wonder, or sadness. I believe you–please believe me. Over the years I’ve learned to be gentler with people than with ideas.

I subbed in a social studies teacher’s class today, for the second day in a row there, had about ninety 7th and 8th graders through the day. At the end of the day, they all went away, I had a free period with nothing to do but disinfect some desks, connect the laptops with their chargers, reflect, then write a little. Remembering the last class, the highest average energy group of the day, but still, like all the rest, pretty much engaged in the ongoing assignment, and, with some gently insistent encouragement, willing to make things work. Most challenging for the big boy with the big presence and voice, and a love of making others look and laugh. But he tried too, toning down his volume and calming himself whenever he got too wired, trying to focus. It’s relative.

All these little interactions happened near the end–a pair of identical twins, quiet African American girls, who hadn’t said much all class–hey, you look so bored, I said, why don’t you get up and make a little trouble so things might be more interesting for you, and we all smiled at the idea. Since I’d been working all period at keeping things relatively calm and trouble-free, and they were so “well behaved.”

Another boy, mature and thoughtful, actively working with his partner on rewording the Bill of Rights, took it upon himself to tell me I should come to a meeting that evening of teachers and parents, and maybe students too, who were discussing a problematic teacher, and how I should take his job. Which I took as a vote of confidence, when the other two at the table and the ones nearby nodded in agreement. I asked what they thought was the problem with this teacher, and the boy said he was failing everyone, but the more he required in work the less he taught anyone anything. How instead of learning how to create websites they were just typing, typing, and doing an online grammar program which they didn’t get. How they’d heard teachers talking about how he was a problem, and they though he should be fired. Why do people like that keep teaching, I wondered aloud–is it just a paycheck? What about trying to do a better job for the joy of it? And what was his side of the story?

Later I thought, in my job hunting I want my most important references to come from students, not just teachers and principals who pass through or read the reports or judge by hearsay. Students are actually there when I work with them; they see if I can manage a classroom, respect them  and treat people fairly, if I can handle a challenge, if I know how to engage, if I know my content. The are pretty good at seeing potential, and discerning a heart, even. I think I’ll distribute anonymous reference forms to students next time I have an extended subbing job, ask them to send them to my district HR departments.

The last two to leave before my prep were project partners from the back corner table. One had said she sometimes got so bored that she would literally fall asleep in class, and had to keep herself hyped just to get anything done, but also sometimes had fits of anger. The other was an Indian girl who had sneered at me for mispronouncing her name the previous day, and who I knew had had multiple run-ins with staff. She asked if I had any food. I pulled out a nut bar and shared it with her and the other girl, and off they went. Earlier I told her that for some reason I imagined that some day she’d be a teacher. She was skeptical, but , there it is in my mind, I said, for some reason.

I felt like an awesome teacher today. Not like I did it by my superlative prowess and immense wisdom, but that it happened, and I got to be in the middle of something special. And no, it wasn’t random thank God.


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2 responses to “Serendipity strikes again

  1. jdawgsrunningblog

    February 20, 2015 at 5:21 am

    Hope you get a full-time job soon—you’re so good for kids–at a whole other level—I’m amazed at the impressions you make in these one or two-day stints. As well, your reflections and descriptions of said experiences are inspiring.

    • toesinthedirt

      February 20, 2015 at 9:57 pm

      Thank you, JD. It’s so great to have the chance to interact with kids this way. So much inner work has to go on in myself, too, and work at maintaining that delicate balance of connection that one hopes is just the right level for each kid, some wanting more space, some less, some needing more, some less. Also a balance of tenderness, detachment, and fierce determination. Hard to explain, and I’m new at this–am I making sense?


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