What a week

I still don’t quite understand my beginning classes. One even begged me NOT to do a fun activity with them. I let them choose. In the end, it worked better because I wasn’t killing myself trying to get them engaged in the learning process, and they did learn the information, it was just so boring. I can’t stand boring. It drives me crazy.
But they didn’t look bored, which was a new thing. I need to go to a different learning styles class again. Maybe I’ll discover some great new tricks.

I got into teaching because I wanted to advise publications. My high school journalism experience was amazing. I never really wanted to work for magazines, newspapers or the other stuff my kids talk about. I just wanted to advise. And I love it. Along the way I learned to love teaching English too. I’m thankful I don’t have to do it, but I still love it.
Part of me remembers those first years when I thought I could change the world.
Actually that part of me still exists.
I had an amazing student recently. He blew me away with his work. He’d hand in these papers and I’d read them in awe, amazed that a kid has this ability to breathe life into the written word, to connect emotionally with an audience.
But the kid was trouble and had been for years. He was personable, cute and smart. The things that usually make a kid stand apart from his peers. Unfortunately he was also into drugs and had been for years. His entire family used. His brother died because of them.
When my fellow teachers saw him walking into my room, they gave me the poor you look. Some even said I’m sorry. It drove me crazy. I was always quick to answer. He’s awesome. An amazing kid in my class. He has the ability to be one of the best. And they always gave me the just wait look.
I refused to care, to label. I knew this kid could make it.
I worked with him. He told me about his rehab. He turned in his stories. He never gave me trouble.
And then one day he was gone.
He just didn’t show up.
Kids are absent all the time, but this was different. I knew it had to be. Sure enough, by the end of the day I had my answer. He’d been caught smoking pot at lunch and he was gone to the alternative campus for 15 days.
I took it personally. And all the poor you’s turned to I told you so’s.
It drove me crazy. 15 days passed and the kid came back.He stopped by my class before school started. Apologized. Said he’d like to be on staff maybe.
I jumped at the opportunity, change the world in the back of my brain.
Sure, I said. You can be on staff–if you can go an entire semester without getting in trouble.
He nodded, said he could do it, and gave me a copy of a column he’d written. He hadn’t slept all night. The words refused to stop, so he finally put them to paper.
I looked at the crumpled paper with the words scratched in pencil. Words about looking up to a brother, always trying to be good enough to hang around him. Hero worship. Family. Love.
The story ended with a phone call and the news. His brother was dead.
And then he’d written about what a waste it was. How his brother had died because he was slave to the bottle. How he wouldn’t be that slave. Not to the bottle. Not to anything.
The paper dropped to my desk and I felt tears well in my eyes. The column needed work. It was deeply personal and it’s sometimes hard to show that emotion. But with some revision, what I was reading would win awards, could probably be published professionally. I explained the process. Turning the raw power of told emotion into the craft of writing. Show don’t tell. We’d start the next day. He left excited, ready to set the literary world on fire.
And then he didn’t show up for class.
Bad news. I knew it.
The next day he did show up.
High.Fidgety. Pupils tiny in big brown glassy eyes that refused to meet mine. Probably meth. It’s everywhere around here.
I called him to the hall. Asked what he was using.
Nothing Miss.
What a joke.
I told him I couldn’t prove it, so I couldn’t do anything about it, but I never wanted him to come to my class high again. What he did in his personal time was his business but he would respect my classroom and me.
He shrugged, whatever’d and slugged back to his seat. By the end of the class he’d crashed. I was just glad to see him walk out.
By the end of the semester he was back to his smiling, confident self. He never showed up high again. But he didn’t ask about staff and we never did work on that column.
And I never pushed it.
I talked to a friend about it though that day he came to my class high. Talked and cried and berated myself for trying with kids who didn’t really have a chance. The writing was already on his wall. In florescent Sharpie. Dead End.
An addict with addict parents and siblings. A habitual rehabber. A kids with a file so big it was actually three. What did I think I could do? Change his life because he just happened to be a great writer?
What could I do? Nothin’ Miss. Just like he said when I asked what he was using.
The told you so’s were right.
I wish there was some happy ending to his story. I checked to see how he was doing this year and discovered he didn’t show up first week.
Life would be easier if I could just forget the Dead Ends. But I can’t do it. Even though they rarely have happy endings, I just can’t. I remember the kid in English class twelve years ago who told me the first day of class he couldn’t write. Who by the end of the year was writing amazing short stories that captivated the imagination. Who finished his PhD in Psych a couple years ago. Or the girl who skipped half her sophomore year because of personal crap and then was in my remedial Junior English class and blew us all away with her intelligence. She graduated with a degree in Marketing. Or the handful of others, kids relegated to the Dead End club, who make it somehow, despite the odds. I remember them and I keep trying. Even though the I Told You So’s are right. Rarely do I find happy endings with these kids. Rarely but not Never. That’s why I keep going. Even though it hurts. And it’s why I’m not going to give up on the silent class. I could. It would be easy to just run off a few hundred worksheets and let them get away with never really talking, never really experiencing my class. But I can’t do it. I just can’t.

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One response to “What a week

  1. Reblogged this on A Writer's Life and commented:

    I was in a negative funk when I stumbled on this post from August 2005. This is why I teach. I needed the reminder.

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