NOTE: This is bursting with typos, but I can’t get myself to comb through and fix them. Please forgive me. Also, if you were worried, the day got significantly better after school.
In the morning, I wake up heavy with sleep, almost unable to open my eyes for a full ten minutes. That could be from wearing my contacts for three straight weeks, but who can say. It’s the kind of morning that releases handfuls of fat, loud raindrops across my windshield as I drive the 1.5 miles to school, but isn’t raining when I walk from my car to the classroom. Recess is undetermined: inside or outside is dependent on the sky.
Moving through the house, then through school, there seems to be a palpable electricity. A tension thick enough for slicing, perfect lines threaten to erupt in chaos at the first move. The chaos doesn’t happen; control comes easier this year.
At lunch students are released from the cafeteria to the playground from most to least quiet student. I hover over the lunch duty person, watching the large majority that leans on the “least” side. I know my duty partner is outside, but also know that my post (lingering near the bathroom, reminded students “Shoulder on brick. When one comes out one goes in. Three girls three boys max.”) is unmanned. There is no predictor for if students will be washed inside in screaming waves, or will not give a second glance to the door leading through the hallway to the sixth grade bathroom. I don’t worry much, let it take care of itself.
While duty teacher dismisses students to run, play on the “Big Toy” and promise not to “mix” genders, I get caught in a long and entertaining conversation with our director of the district cafeterias, a woman who has a son my age. She’s listing off all the males within three years of my age on either side that still live in the areas, sure to note who’s single and who’s cute. I’m flattered and interested and so ready for more genuine local friends. We’ve been in contact, but never friends. Not a single one in these three years have I seen more than twice. I give her my phone number before walking out to the playground, ten minutes late.
Lining up post-recess is the worst I have witnessed this year.
My voice is raised, my stress peaking through my temples. My only reasonable response to my students is silence. Bitter. Silence.
Within ten minutes I learn that a fight 10-girls deep occurred in the bathroom during the ten minutes I took to talk to the cafeteria manager about boys. My guilt is physical.
After lunch one student is clearly upset. One who is frequently upset, one who positive narration and direct instruction will not lift the head of. I send him on a walk, tell him to come back when he can be mature. He returns. Because of that behavior, coupled with disruptions at recess, I place him on the wall for the pep assembly.
Another sixth grade teacher asks why I put him there; I explain.
“You know about his dad, right?”
“They locked him up this morning.”
“Put him away.”
“He’s been on trial, they decided this morning. It’s been on the news.”
I thankfully feel no regrets about my discipline choices, but a feel a rock dropping from my rips to my gut thinking of this child. I know a sizable percent of my students have parents and family members in jail. I know there are drug addictions and molesters and cases of abuse much more rampant and immediate than I can fathom.
But this felt more real than any other story I’ve heard about a student. I wanted to run outside and wrap my arms around him, wanted to sit him for a two hour conversation, wanted to ask him how he is.
I thought of the book I read the introduction to yesterday How Children Succeed, and though I read very little I remember a premises: that at a certain point, children must fail and rise on their own. Is this this student’s fall? How will he rise?
This is a student who weeks ago came to school with an Arkansas state pin on the lapel of his tucked in button down, a nametag hiding in his shirt pocket, made to look just like his dad’s. His dad is the mayor of the next town over.
After school I tutor Mesha.
“How was your day?” I ask her.
“It was okay.
“Yes. A teacher called me strange. She said it hurtful, she looked at me and said, ‘You strange.” She didn’t mean it in a good way.”
“Why do you think she said it?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know, but it hurted.”
It’s just this kind of day.