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I am a part of all that I have met…

December 5, 2012
Returning from Seattle.

Returning from Seattle.

For the past week, I’ve spent my days at a junior high in the area. I’m volunteering my time since, well, you know.

And while I could write for days on the differences between suburban Seattle junior highs (a light breeze blows across the outdoor space while students practice yoga) and New Orleans middle schools (a single battle of an all-out war was fought every single day), I’ll spare you my verbose diatribe. Here are some highlights, some surprises, some reinforcements of the kick ass training from teachNOLA, and a bunch of if-you-can’t-say-anything-nice-don’t-say-anything-at-all white space:

1. Middle schoolers are actually quite small. These “traditional” pubescent aliens range from teeny tiny to the captain of the basketball team. He is double the size of the kid who sits across from him. I thought all middle schoolers were 18 going on 45.

2. They actually sort of know what’s going on. In literature. We’ve been reading Homer’s Odyssey and Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. These days of late remind me of my Anne of Green Gables dream of being an English teacher.

3. Kids are kids are kids. They all still want gold stars. They all feel worthy of everything, especially that which they have not earned.

4. Saying “shhhhh” does not work on these middle class white kids, nor does it work on previously incarcerated, poor black students from New Orleans public schools. That’s why I don’t use it. I wish everyone else would get in my “no shushing” boat and ride out to teaching sea.

5. As a teacher, you must have a relationship with each child that transcends your class assignments. No kid is going to do your homework, easy or hard, if you don’t respect them. Start with relationships, the rest will come. Knowing a poem forward and backwards will not help you if you disrespect your kids. They’ll likely just hate you, and the poem you rode in on.

6. If a kid interrups you, and then you spend 45 seconds berating that kid in front of the class, you are worse than that kid. If kids interrupt you, you might want to check your message. Time is of the essence. The teacher sets the pace, and if he or she doesn’t, the kids surely will. And you don’t want a hormone monster in charge of anything.

7. When a teacher complains about a student, saying how he’s trouble, gets sent out every day, flunks every class, and never comes to school, I immediately assume his home life is shit, he needs more love, and is probably a budding genius who can’t dig out of a hole. I’m the lucky one. The teachers bestowed their least favorite student upon me last week, saying they could do nothing with him. Annnnnnd guess who is now doing his homework? Guess who is making up old assignments? Guess who comes to see me every day during study hall? Guess who is making a plan to stay on track, and learning how to advocate for himself?

8. (This is where I’m holding my tongue.)

9. (And here.)

10. (And this one too.)

Pretty sure I’m meant to be a teacher. It comes easily and it makes me feel alive. I love getting to know these little jerks. But it’s easy to assume that they’ll make it. They have a leg up on most (er, all) of my students from New Orleans. My nerdy-English-major-self must take refuge in the literature that we’ve been covering, knowing that like Ulysses, I must get back to sea. Being idle is unacceptable, once you’ve fought a war.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
9 Comments leave one →
  1. Betty Mantz permalink
    December 5, 2012 8:49 pm

    I love knowing you and I especially love #5, 8, 9 and 10! You have found your gift! And knowing that will serve you every day of your life!

  2. Jimmyshands permalink
    December 5, 2012 9:10 pm

    …shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

  3. melanie aleman permalink
    December 5, 2012 9:46 pm

    I love your last line. So applicable to me right now.

    • December 5, 2012 10:24 pm

      I remember saying to my co-teacher (who was always a life saver– even just the presence of another adult human) that we were war buddies. We’d been in the proverbial trenches together, so we were connected for life. The war analogy is definitely extreme. But it is a battle. Every day.

      Love reading your posts too. What an incredible experience.

  4. Catherine and Craig Summers permalink
    December 5, 2012 11:13 pm

    Keep it up. You’re on to something!!!!!

    Love, Pops

    On Wed, Dec 5, 2012 at 8:31 PM, New to the Orleans wrote:

    > ** > sunnydawnsummers posted: ” Returning from Seattle. For the > past week, I’ve spent my days at a junior high in the area. I’m > volunteering my time since, well, you know. And while I could write for > days on th”

  5. laurel birdsong permalink
    December 6, 2012 8:21 am

    Also, once you’ve fought in the trenches, the regular streets just don’t seem so bad nor the students’ problems insurmountable. I wonder how long you’ll be able to stay out of the war torn diaspora that is NOLA…. but revel in the fact that you really have done a lot right where you are. What a lady! Takes a licking and keeps on sticking!!

  6. kmrobb1 permalink
    December 6, 2012 10:21 am

    did you really get kick ass training from teachNOLA? or were you being sarcastic? i was never prepared for the battles i faced. and i got beat down. i know you are a kind and wise person. you truly are gifted to make a difference!

    • December 6, 2012 12:39 pm

      I’m not kidding. TeachNOLA was awesome. I felt prepared for the classroom for sure. It’s the post teachNOLA training by TNTP that felt like a massive waste of time. A hoop to jump through.

  7. December 6, 2012 11:05 am

    I enjoy your keen and witty observations.

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