Posted in Random Thoughts

Within these Walls

Often I think about the impact that a teacher makes on her classroom.  I think I’ve written about it more than once.

It’s hard to express what happens to your heart as a teacher.  What happens with every group of students that enters your classroom. About the joy and love that you feel for them. About the guilt that you may feel when you finally decide that you may need to take a step back and try something else.

As a freshman, I remember her sitting there in the back corner of the class, obviously troubled.  Who was I to kid? They were all troubled in their own little ways.  But that day, she seemed more out of tune than any other. Another of my students went to her and they talked in hushed whispers about whatever it was that was going on in her life. As class ended, I saw her place a razor blade in the other girl’s hand, taken from concealment in her pencil pouch. I didn’t embarass her with her obvious shame. I went and told the counselor.  They committed her for a day or two, and when she came back, she thanked me.  Thanked me for caring enough to say something, for making her parents notice, even just for a moment.

***

I was standing in the hallway, watching the traffic jam of students that spread like the tentacles of an amoeba. All of a sudden, she raced around the corner, tears in her eyes, and she looked at me and asked simply, “Can I please just have a hug?”  I wrapped my arms around her, and she cried, never telling me what it was that had caused her tears.  I didn’t need to know.  And she didn’t need to talk about it.  She just needed someone to hold her so that she didn’t feel so alone with her tears.

***

It was two years after she had graduated.  She came back to visit, bright eyed and bushy tailed.  She loved everything about the college she was attending.  It had never been better. But then she stopped and looked at me seriously.  “I don’t think I ever told you how glad I was to have you as a teacher.  How much you helped me through that first year.” Tears welled up in her eyes, and I found my own composure cracking. “You may not have known it, but you were the best teacher I ever had.” I cried there in front of her, and she cried too, and we laughed through the tears at the rediculousness of it all.

***

He had graduated the year before.  I hadn’t taught him in four years, but I remember his freshman year well.  The one day when the girl said something to set him off.  Anger flared in his eyes, this man trapped in a boy’s body.  He yelled and railed against whatever invisible daemon he was fighting, fist meeting the metal of my filing cabinet one, two, three times, leaving knuckle dents that still grace its surface twelve years later.  I was scared for him, scared for us.  The year ended, and I never knew what had happened to him to make him so full of emotion.  But talking with another teacher I learned that he was living in shelters, bouncing from one place to the next.  His constant companions were rats and mice and hunger.  He never knew where he was going to end up next or where his next meal would come from.  I see his smiling face in my Facebook feed, a member of the military, all traces of that life seemingly gone from him, save for the small glint in his eye that speaks of things from that other time.

They run together sometimes, the stories that have come and go from the lips and fingers of my students.  One student in jail because he murdered someone.  Other students lost along the way.  One shot at gunpoint.  A few married with kids.  Some still struggling to make ends meet. Others flourishing.  And I know that maybe in some way, they all remember me just a little.  I remember them.  I may not remember a name, but a face and a story, that will always be there.

And so if I walk away from this classroom, find that choices have taken me someplace else, I will take those memories with me.  A stack of drawings given freely.  The Christmas picture of my class and me, hugging and smiling.  The video of my seniors presenting songs and skits, some not appreciated nearly enough.  And I will look at them. And I will smile.  And I will try to remember, that I made a difference. Even if just for a moment.

Posted in Motherhood, Random Thoughts, Teaching, Uncategorized

The Trials and Tribulations of Teaching

How’d you like that use of alliteration? Beautiful wasn’t it? I’m not an English teacher…nope. Not at all.

Anywho, I figure since I’ve written at length lately about my own child, it’s time that I wrote about something that isn’t R but my other children. My students.

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from college with a B.A. in English.

And much like our character, Princeton, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. It really did seem like a useless degree…and for the most part it was. I had gone into English because it was the one major that wasn’t going to take me an extra year to finish when I transferred majors from Theatre Education (Yes, I use the British spelling. Sue me). I suppose that deep down I always knew I was going to be a teacher in one way or another. But at that moment, I didn’t know how to get started…didn’t know what I needed to do, what classes I still needed to take, nothing. I was lost.

So I went to a job fair, and there I ran into an old teacher of mine. My old French teacher, actually. And I can’t continue this story without thanking her. Because at that job fair, she gave me the guidance that I so very needed, guidance that has enabled me to have the career that I have had for the past 11 years. Without her, who knows where I would be right now. Madame T told me about a program that the school system had, one where I would take some classes over the summer, get a job in the fall, and have a free Masters degree by the end of three years. I signed up, was accepted, and began my journey as a teacher.

And a long journey it has been. In my eleven years, I have learned so much, not only about myself, but about the people in the community I serve, about the strength of students. Things that you don’t ever think about until you see them with your own eyes.

I started out teaching English to 9th grade high school students. It was not the easiest place in the world to reach kids. I was also 21, and students saw me more as a peer than as an authority figure, so it made things even more difficult. But as time went on, I developed my own style of teaching and discipline, and I’ve managed to make it through eleven years without too much of a fuss.

I currently teach Creative Writing instead of English, and that was a task in and of itself. I had never taken a Creative Writing class, much less taught it before I was given this program. I have never had to learn something so quick! But these past four years have been the best four years of my teaching career.

Where was I going with this? I don’t even remember. I just know that thinking about my students and the career that I’ve had so far fills me with a sort of nostalgia that almost makes me cry.

I ran into a former student two nights ago at Walmart. I couldn’t remember his name, but I remembered his face, and he definitely remembered me. He told me how he and his high school girlfriend were still together, how they had a son, and how he remembered me and my class. I don’t think much about the impact I leave. Sometimes I doubt that I leave much of an impact at all. But gosh darnit, if he didn’t look so happy to see me, and the way that he spoke about my class…it was one of those moments that I suppose every teacher gets. Where they realize that even though they don’t always realize it, they’ve made a difference to someone.

I talk about being a mother as if it’s this wholly new experience for me. But I suppose it’s not. I’ve had over a thousand children. None of them were mine by blood or birth, but they’ve all been mine for the short period of time that I knew them. And even if I can’t remember names any more, I still remember faces. I remember that once upon a time, they were no more than a fifteen year old with wide eyes, and maybe an attitude problem. And years later, they have grown into adults and remember me too.

If I ever have a bad day at work, at least I can sit back and think about those moments and be thankful that I have them. Because some jobs don’t have that. Even when my teaching time is done, there will be some part of me that lives on through the lives of my students. And that thought is comforting.

 

~Aly, aka The Mommy Gamer