Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 01 2012

Never Alone

EDIT: I also meant to write that I’m up to 21 received letters so far! Germany, Philly, Chicago, California, Texas… I am beside myself and students are begging to read them!

I had a really hard time with Leton. It started with assuming he needed to be in special ed in the second or third week of school. It continued with assuming his mother was (is?) doing his homework for him. Still further, when he took 15 minutes to write his name on a paper and an entire class for me to give up on him for the day. It was hard to call his mother and admit I’d been lowering my expectations for her son. Hard to realize, with her explanation, that I had been lowering my expectations for her son.

I talked to her Friday, and today Leton was a different person. Our quote we’re writing about in our notebooks is, “Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” I went through the entire day mostly regretting my choice of quote. It seemed so simple when I was writing the homework, but quote analysis is incredibly difficult for 11-year-olds.

It’s fifth period, students are antsy. When we read the quote, who raises his hand? Who starts to go on a very lucid and concise rant about the stories of Native Americans, of cave paintings, and of the Bible, about how important it is not to forget the stories in our histry? It’s Leton.

Lord.

In the morning, I had a delivery in my classroom. It was from my girl Dria from last year, my pride and joy, the one who still sends me texts with hearts and smiles weekly. Her little brother dropped off a plastic bag with some pink poking out. What was it? It was a t-shirt promoting her in her rapper name, proclaming, “Piink Starr is my favorite rapper” with a microphone looped around the text. Greatest. Student. Gift. EVER.

After school I hustled to the building leadership team meeting, of which I volunteered to be chair with averted eyes. Is it terrible for a third year teacher to push in? To take leadership? To assume authority with zero seniority? I feel both guilty and proud, when I sit in those meetings and offer up whatever it is I have to say. I am so proud of the people I work with, proud of how we feel about our students, proud of the changes (however small) we make on a daily basis to better serve our kids.

The meeting turned out to be a two-meeting-fusion, totaling to three hours. I walked out at 6:30, clutching my binder and catapulting ideas from one end of my brain to the other. Can we do this? Can I make this? Can this happen? Can I handle the piles of work I am assigning myself? Will I be here next year to see anything change?

Arriving home I had a letter from a friend I love and have only met twice, then ran the fastest three miles I’ve done since I started training for this half marathon.

Being in Dumas for a third year, spending the last three or four or five weekends doing almost strictly teacher things, I started to channel frustration, loneliness, homesickness, hopelessness. I didn’t necessarily speak it, but radiated it instead. Last Thursday I came home from school to sob and sob until I talked to my sister and drank some water.

This weekend I drove the three hours to Memphis. Ate sushi, bought new running shoes, went dancing, woke up at 7:30 for a 6.5 mile run that didn’t smell like dog food, burning trash, or pesticides. Bought books at a used bookstore and a case for my iPhone. Met friends. Spent hours at coffee shops. Breathed.

Now I’m back, and while the carride back had me squirming, I am so happy here. I love my job. I love my students. Love isn’t even a word anymore, it’s not strong enough, it’s not specific enough. But it’s all I have, still, through the homesickness and apathy and stunted feelings: just love.

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